New York Times journalist David Rohde's account of his kidnapping and subsequent escape from Taliban militants affiliated with the Haqqani network in North Waziristan region of Pakistan makes for riveting reading. It's an amazing story, and one has to admire Rohde's fortitude and survival instincts during his seven-month ordeal.
Read all of it, but I just have one comment about this bit from the epilogue:
My suspicions about the relationship between the Haqqanis and the Pakistani military proved to be true. Some American officials told my colleagues at The Times that Pakistan's military intelligence agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, turns a blind eye to the Haqqanis' activities. Others went further and said the ISI provided money, supplies and strategic planning to the Haqqanis and other Taliban groups.
Pakistani officials told my colleagues that the contacts were part of a strategy to maintain influence in Afghanistan to prevent India, Pakistan's archenemy, from gaining a foothold. One Pakistani official called the Taliban "proxy forces to preserve our interests."
Meanwhile, the Haqqanis continue to use North Waziristan to train suicide bombers and bomb makers who kill Afghan and American forces. They also continue to take hostages.
We'll see how long this relationship holds, but if you need any convincing that the ISI at least tacitly allows the Haqqani folks to do their thing unmolested, consider this: To get to South Waziristan, where the Pakistani Army is engaged in a fierce battle with the Pakistani Taliban around the Makin area, which is dominated by the Mehsud tribal grouping, some units had to drive through North Waziristan. In fact, they drove right through the center of Miram Shah, the regional capital and Haqqani stronghold where Rohde made his escape -- and there was just one isolated IED attack along the way.
What does that tell us? At a minimum, it tells us that the powers that be in North Waziristan are being very cooperative and not coming to the Mehsuds' aid. And supposedly, the Haqqanis and their local allies, led by another Pakistani Taliban leader named Hafiz Gul Bahadar, have explicitly pledged not to interfere. The Pakistani military has struck a number of much-criticized peace deals with Bahadar over the last few years, and some say the security establishment in Rawalpindi is all too happy to keep this relationship alive so long as the Haqqanis and Bahadar only launch attacks in Afghanistan, not at home.
American officials have been hinting in recent weeks, however, that the Pakistani military is simply tackling one challenge at a time -- the Mehsuds -- and the Haqqanis may be next on their hit list. That's certainly what AfPak envoy Richard Holbrooke and Amb. Ann Patterson seem to be telling Frontline, though one can detect a little daylight between the two U.S. diplomats. In Holbrooke's words, the Pakistanis "are quite clear in their own minds that Haqqani poses a threat to both Afghanistan and Pakistan." Patterson says, "[W]e're working with them on these, and I think they increasingly see these [other] groups as a threat as well" -- but Pakistan is not willing to turn on them yet.
Meanwhile, the U.S. is still conducting airstrikes in North Waziristan, which is still teeming with foreign militants and where it's widely thought that Osama bin Laden has hidden out at one point or another during the last few years. This is definitely a story to watch.
In a talk given this afternoon at the Miller Center of Public Affairs, retired Gen. John Abizaid outlined his view of U.S. involvement in the Middle East. He argued that it is foolish to approach issues on a country-by-country basis, complaining that "we look at Iraq through a soda straw. We look at Afghanistan through a soda straw." Instead, says Abizaid, the United States must develop a regional strategy that accounts for the roles of Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Iran.
For the same reason, he suggested, the debate over whether or not to send more troops to Afghanistan has been over-simplified; the discussion should be broadened to include the relative demands of Iraq, Afghanistan and the region at large.
Abizaid also emphasized the ideological nature of the conflict, and the need for soft power to address the root causes of radicalism. He noted that Baitullah Mehsud, the top Taliban leader, is referred to as "the commander of the faithful."
"While we may chuckle at that title," Abizaid said, "the people fighting for him do not." When asked whether there should be a shift to a counter-terrorism approach in Afghanistan that relies more upon targeted strikes than nation-building, Abizaid responded that such a plan is impractical. Stabilization in Afghanistan and Iraq is a precondition for effective counter terrorist operations, he argued, because it provides the infrastructure needed to develop the "superb, superb intelligence" needed.
The theme of the talk was that instability anywhere in the region is a serious threat to surrounding countries. With our "ground forces spread thin" and "our 24-7 forces totally engaged," the United States must more fully incorporate diplomatic, political and economic plans to get a handle on the region. A number of questions were directed to the resources required for such a broad regional approach, and towards the end of the talk, the retired general was asked if the situation would be better in Afghanistan had the United States not invaded Iraq.
"All's I know is that we did what we did, and we are where we are," he answered.
“It’s time to get a jackhammer and to simply chip off that part of New York City,” said Huckabee, “and let it float into the East River, never to be seen again!” That remark got him a standing ovation, and Huckabee went on to suggest de-funding the U.N. entirely.
“It’s time to say enough of the American taxpayer’s dollar being spent on something that may have been a noble idea, but has become a disgrace!” said Huckabee. “It has become the international equivalent of ACORN and it’s time to say enough!”
Huckabee continued, suggesting that the U.N. be handed over to one of the nations that attacked America. “Let’s end the diplomatic excesses that these people enjoy,” he said. “Let any country that is willing to spend the money that the United States is hosting–let them have it. Give it to the Saudis and let these diplomats suck the sand out of the Saudi desert for a few summers and see if that’s where they’d like to go, and make their ridiculous speeches.”
I actually think it wouldn't be the worst idea for the U.N. to find a new home. The security requirements for that many heads of state are pretty taxing on post-9/11 New York City, and it couldn't hurt to have the organization based in a country that doesn't arouse such strong feelings in the vast majority of the world's population.
That said, I don't quite get what point we'd be proving by sticking the Saudis with the event and the ACORN comparison doesn't make too much sense beyond that fact that they're both "institutions that Mike Huckabee doesn't like."
Update: U.N. Dispatch's Matthew Cordell says the security issue is bogus:
First off, the stringent security requirements and the accompanying costs are only a burden on the city one week a year. At most other times the security perimeter of the UN rarely extends beyond its grounds. The economic benefits, on the other hand, stream in every day, as the UN draws in droves of diplomats, press, NGO types, and business leaders to spend money in NY hotels, restaurants, cabs, shops, and on and on. Mayor Bloomberg's office has said that the United Nations adds $2.2 billion a year to the economy of New York City and creates 18,000 jobs. On top of that, the current renovation of the UN headquarters is expected to bring in over a $1 billion to U.S. businesses. If I were a New Yorker, I'd be up in arms about a suggestion that would lead to more money being drained from the city.
Fair enough. For the record, I don't think the United States should "kick out" the U.N. or withdraw from it or any of what Huckabee was suggesting. I do think that it couldn't hurt for at least the General Assembly to be held in a somewhat more neutral site, but I'm sorry this was seen as a "silly side-swipe" at the United Nations.
Recent U.S. military activity in Somalia is causing ripples throughout
the African community. AFP is reporting that Monday's closing of the
American embassy in Pretoria, South Africa was due to threats from an al-Qaeda
splinter group seeking revenge for Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan's death last week in Somalia.
Last week's raid in Somalia signifies a shift in US policy toward the region, and may be linked to the increasing militarization of AFRICOM since its inception in 2007. Officials continue to argue its role is as a "force for peace." However, the perception by others is increasing negative. Recently, the American National Conference on Black Lawyers petitioned Attorney General Eric Holder to dismantle the operation in an open letter blasting AFRICOM as:
"A military command that is designed to facilitate warfare. In the context of African politics, the mere presence of AFRICOM will be perceived as an act of aggression that will decrease, not increase, the likelihood of peaceful resolution of conflicts."
The embassy threat could be the beginnings of increased hostility toward U.S. interests in southern Africa, opening up a new counter-terrorism arena rather than pre-empting one.
Last year, Passport made the case for Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, hosting the 2016 Olympics over closest rivals Chicago, Tokyo and Madrid.
Today, one Chicago website is making that same case.
"It would be exciting to host the Olympics here in Chicago," ChicagoansforRio.com says. "But you know what would be even better? Rio de Janeiro. Just let Rio host the 2016 Olympics. We don't mind. Honest."
Just eight days until the announcement of the winner, Chicagoans for Rio break down some reasons Brazil would host the games better. For instance:
Statues. Rio has Christ standing. Chicago has Lincoln sitting. (To be fair, Chicago also has statues of Lincoln standing.)
Signature events. Rio has naked people dancing. Chicago has chubby people eating.
Nickname. Rio is the "Marvelous City." Chicago is the "Second City."
The site also points out Chicago has a budget deficit of nearly $220 million; they claim Rio has a $0 budget deficit because, "If you're a Chicagoan, Rio's budget deficit does not matter."
They also say 21 of Athens' 22 Olympic venues remain unused.
It appears the latest victim of recessionomics is the ambition to host the world's second most important sporting event.
ANTONIO SCORZA/AFP/Getty Images
In response to Admiral Mullen's testimony on the need for more troops in Afghanistan, Senator Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) asked, "Do you understand you've got one more shot back home? Do you understand that?"
The question is reflective of polls showing distinctly waning support of the war effort in the United States. A Washington Post-ABC News poll has found that only 46 percent of respondents thought that the war was worth fighting; 51 percent said that it wasn't.
It's certainly a dramatic change since the time of the U.S. invasion. According to Gallup numbers, a whopping 93 percent of respondents in 2002 agreed with the decision to send U.S. forces to Afghanistan. That number steadily declined to 72 percent by mid-2004. Between that point and mid-2007, however, that number was remarkably stable, dropping only two percentage points over the course of three years. That might be reflective of Afghanistan's status as "the forgotten war;" people's opinions probably don't change much if they aren't paying attention.
It's interesting to compare this trend to the United States's other war. In the case of Iraq, there's an obvious decline in the number of Americans who think sending troops to Iraq wasn't a mistake (from 75 percent in 2003 to 39 percent in 2009) and an increase in the number of people who think that it was a mistake (from 23 percent in 2003 up to 58 percent in 2009). But whereas opinion on Afghanistan has been steadily declining; virtually every poll on Iraq represents another significant fluctuation. In mid-2004, for example, the percentage of supporters swung from 58 percent down to about 44 percent, and then back up to about 56 percent.
In general, there certainly seems to be decreasing support for any war over time; another Gallup poll suggests that soon after wars end, there is a consistent increase of people who "feel that war is an outdated way of settling differences."
Photo: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
Another piece of news from today's roundtable with Sudan envoy Scott Gration comes more subtlely, but perhaps just as importantly for anyone watching Sudan. "The neighbors" are pushing for unification when a vote comes in 2011. In other words, they are not keen on an independent Southern Sudan.
Gration says: "In many ways, the neighbors are all pushing for unity because they understand that the instability caused by a fledgling nation that is not ready for independence will have ramifications that spread far and wide across Africa. So countries like Ethiopia and Egypt and others are fearing, to some degree, an independence [vote]."
To recap: the 2005 peace agreement signed between North and South Sudan, ending a decades long war, stipulated that in 2011, the autonomous South would hold a referendum in which it would be allowed to decide whether it would prefer independence or unification. If the vote were to happen today, it's almost certain they would vote to become Africa's newest state.
If only it were that easy. In recent months, tensions have picked up along the border. The South blames the North for stirring up trouble and arming militias. The North blames the South for the same. More importantly, there has yet to be a settlement on the referendum law that will govern the 2011 vote. So it's far from clear that Khartoum is ready to let its Southern half... go.
If the neighbors are reluctant, matters are even more complicated. (Imagine moving into a 7 person townhouse with 6 hostile roommates... multiplied by South Sudan's between 7.9 and 9.5 million people.... and you've got the idea). Reticient neighbors would, uh, complicate the process that Gration already described as seriously daunting: "We're trying to bring about an environment [such] that, in five months, we can help make a country -- a country that will have its own currency, if they choose independence, have embassies around the world, have a central bank, control it's own airspace... there's a lot of work."
Gration promised to push ahead with the referendum law, acknowledging the overwhelming popular support for independence.
Unrelated, one more piece of news from the briefing: queried about the statement by the outgoing peacekeeping chief that the war in Darfur is essentially over, Gration replied that the he agreed, but said the tasks ahead in Darfur were no less daunting: "Even though the war, where the technical answer in terms of military view is that the war is over, the insecurity and the fear associated -- fearing for your life -- is still there."
In the Foggy Bottom office meeting room of U.S. Envoy to Sudan Scott Gration, the walls are covered with maps. Then, squarely behind the seat at the head of the table, is a wipe-board with two important "count downs:" 148 working days Sudan's elections and 346 before the referendum that will decide whether South Sudan will go independent from the North.
"That's not a whole lot of time," Gration said this morning at a blogger roundtable which I attended. There is much work to do.
I'll mention some "breaking news" now, and blog more in depth thereafter:
1) Gration said that "last night," the administration did "reach and agreement on the overall broad framework on what we call incentives and pressures" that will govern a long-awaited Sudan policy release (a document that will lay out the approach of the new administration). A vote from the "principals" is still necessary, but Gration was confident that an internal government consensus had been reached. Sudan, he said, is a high priority for the administration. He has "weekly" meetings with the White House, and has had "daily" contact recently to finalize the policy release.
2) Responding to a query about his active engagement with a government whose president, Omar el-Bashir, has been indicted for war crimes, said: "I've not met with Bashir, nor do I have plans to meet with him. But I'm not ruling it out if we have to do it to move the process forward." Gration defended his strong engagement with Khartoum, for which he has been criticized by some advocacy groups. Such ties were the only real viable way to move peace forward in both Southern Sudan and Darfur, he said. "We would like to be able to fix Darfur and the South and the Chad conflict, the proxy war, we'd like to bring regional stability wihtout ever having to go to Khartoum. I'm serious, it would be wonderful." But not feasible.
3) Gration generated much controversy in late August by his comments suggesting that some sanctions on Sudan should be rolled back. Today, he spoke of keeping sanctions in place but applying for exemptions for certain projects that are, today, being hindered by strict regulations. "Some of the sanctions that we have in place are actually hindering our ability to do the humanitarian mission and the development mission -- and in some ways, even the security mission."
4) Finally, Gration plans to head back to Sudan later this month -- a visit that will begin in Juba, in Southern Sudan, to nail down still contested points of the peace process between North and South. The two sticky issues? The conduct of an upcoming census (a touchy issue with big political stakes for the voter rolls) and the actual details of the law that will govern a 2011 referendum in which South Sudan votes for unification or independence from the rest of the country. In short, Gration is going back to sort out some very fundamental issues. "If we can't get the refendum law right, if we can't get the process right, if there's violations or irregularities, this could really be bad...so we are working extremely hard to make sure that the process is transparent[.]"
More to come...
ASHRAF SHAZLY/AFP/Getty Images
We have received several responses to the post last week about the State Department's struggle to get security clearances for interns. The post was based on this National Journal story. Below are comments by readers identifying themselves as former interns. The consensus so far is that while the process isn't great, the clearance is important.
Matt Born, who served as an intern in Athens in 2007, responded by email, and said that he applied in May 2006, was accepted in September, had his clearance request submitted in October and received an interim clearance in January 2007:
I was a State intern a few years ago, and found the process to be opaque and difficult. I was offered and served as an intern in the political section in Athens, but I can vouch that the clearance process took a significant amount of time and only succeeded after they stopped pursuing top secret clearance and opted for interim secret. I'm on my third passport, and have spent maybe 10 percent of my life overseas, but due to the opacity of the process I don't know whether that had any impact.
Regarding whether interns handle classified material, I can say that it varied. There were times when I had to remind the FSOs that my clearance didn't go high enough to do what they were asking. There were three other interns during my stay in Athens, and some of them never saw a coversheet.
Commenter tbeau85 agreed that access is important:
As a former overseas DOS intern, I had access to classified cables for intern projects. No intern is "running" anything but your reaction does overlook the fact that in reality, "classified" material does not always include "sexy" news. It can be simply politically sensitive discussions--access to which is necessary if an intern is to get a full experience with DOS. Even not related to direct assignments, perusing the cables everyday was one of the best experiences as an intern. If interns could only read UC material, the whole experience would not be nearly the same.
alkenn93 says he/she also received an interim clearance one week ahead of time and that the process was "incredibly difficult":
Yes, it was extremely useful to be able to read classified cables and to attend sensitive meetings, and I wouldn't argue that interns shouldn't have to be granted secret clearance. Still, the difficulty of the process only serves to weed out eager students with relevant overseas experience, and is not proportionate to the actual amount of sensitive work we complete.
Another description of the access provided for cleared interns:
For better or worse, many areas and documents are marked as secret, and I agree that not clearing interns would rather limit their experiences. Cables, NIEs, and other documents that have classified versions offer a lot more insight into the whole process and are a neat perk of the job. Certainly, the process could be improved -- interns who applied nine months ahead of time should be told more than a week before the first day that they will, in fact, be permitted to show up for work -- but the difficulty in obtaining a clearance shouldn't detract from the value of that clearance.
Finally, commenter Guyver describes the frustration of never getting to start:
I was supposed to be a summer intern at State in 2006. I did not get my clearance till end of August, by which time summer was over. Funny thing, I was offered the internship because I have native-fluency in Arabic, but that’s what delayed my clearance, because I spent many years overseas in Arab countries.
Based on these comments, here are some further questions for discussion:
If State Department funding is increased, as has been indicated, will the problems lessen?
Are normal State hires having the same problems with clearance? Or is it easier because training and the first year doing consular leave plenty of time?
Update: A prospective Foreign Service Officer (FSO) wrote in to explain that the clearance process for hires is just as long. She asked to have her name withheld as her employment offer is still in the clearance phase.
As someone with a conditional offer of employment as an FSO, I must note that one cannot be accepted into training without passing the Final Suitability Review, which requires both the top-secret clearance and medical clearance to be completed before the actual hiring can take place. This process takes months to complete.
I asked what prospective FSOs do for the months while awaiting clearance:
I think some people do drop out, but the process to pass the FSO exams is so arduous, and people have invested so much time and energy already, that I think most don't. Most keep working wherever they've been working, or get short-term jobs, things like that.
As I mentioned before, a lot more could have gone into this week's list of Ted Kennedy's little-remembered foreign-policy achievements. One more example is his role in the creation of Bangladesh. In 1971, the government of Pakistan, with the support of the Nixon administration, sent troops into what was then called East Pakistan, in order to contain a secessionist movement. This created a massive refugee crisis as millions streamed across the border to India.
Although the situation got little coverage in the United States, Kennedy, who had a lifelong interest in refugee issues and was eyeing a run against Nixon, traveled to inspect the situation:
On his return, he issued a scathing report to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Refugees. The report, "Crisis in South Asia," spoke of "one of the most appalling tides of human misery in modern times."
"Nothing is more clear, or more easily documented, than the systematic campaign of terror -- and its genocidal consequences -- launched by the Pakistani army on the night of March 25th," he wrote.
"All of this has been officially sanctioned, ordered and implemented under martial law from Islamabad. America's heavy support of Islamabad is nothing short of complicity in the human and political tragedy of East Bengal."
The Nixon administration maintained its stance. But Kennedy's focus on the mass killings came as everyday Americans began to share in the outrage. For instance, Beatle George Harrison's Concert for Bangladesh, the first benefit event of its kind, was staged to further highlight the plight of Bangladeshi refugees.
Besieged, the U.S. Congress pushed through a bill to ban arms sales to Pakistan.
Kennedy received a hero's welcome in Dhaka in 1972, just after Bangladesh gained independence. Yesterday, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina recalled Kennedy's role, saying, "The people of Bangladesh will remember his contribution forever."
Yesterday's New York Times obit of Kennedy devoted one paragraph to his international contributions, saying he "had less impact on foreign policy than on domestic concerns." That's probably true. But considering the impact Kennedy had in Chile, Bangladesh, South Africa, and Northern Ireland as well as the not-insignificant role he played in the debates over Vietnam and Iraq, this says more about the size of his overall legacy than anything else.
Photo: Ted Kennedy in Dhaka in 1972. From Flickr user faria!
This week's list looks at some of the late Ted Kennedy's notable international achievements. Of course, it's only a very partial list. See Joe Cirincione for Kennedy's impact in the nuclear disarmament debate or UNHCR commissioner Antonio Gutteres on his longtime advocacy for refugees. There's also a lot more to be said on Kennedy's Cold War diplomacy and work on immigration reform.
Given the number of areas of U.S. foreign policy where Kennedy helped shape the debate, it's actually a testament to his outsized impact on domestic politics that this isn't a big part of his legacy.
There are so many great Kennedy anecdotes, but here's one truly bizarre one from Peter Canellos's book "Last Lion" about an awkward meeting between Kennedy, his advisor David Burke and President Lyndon Johnson, soon after Kennedy's return from a trip to Vietnam in 1968:
Finally, in the last week of January, Ted received word that the president wanted to see him.
Burke and Ted prepared their presentation for Johnson and then sat with him in the Oval Office. As Ted began his remarks about the failure of the United States to win over hearts and minds of the Vietnamese, Johnson cut him off.
"Now wait a minute, Teddy," the president drawled. "There's no need to rush on this. There was something I wanted to ask you first, and then we can get down to what you wanted to say."
"Teddy," Johnson said, pausing for effect. "Do you want a Fresca?"
"Um, no thank you, Mr. President," Ted stammered.
As Ted tried once more to deliver his report, Johnson again interrupted and turned to Burke. "Dave, would you like a Fresca?"
"No thank you, Mr. President."
"Well, I'm going to have a Fresca," the leader of the free world announced. Then he turned to look at his butler, who was holding a silver beverage tray. "I'll ask you again, Dave, are you going to have a Fresca with your president? We'd enjoy it."
Burke caved. "Yes, Mr. President, I'll have a Fresca."
Johnson smiled. "Good, good. Now that's good." He turned to his butler. "David and I will have a Fresca." He waited several beats before adding, "Teddy doesn't want one.
As the butler left the room, one of Johnson's dogs came bounding into the room and leaped onto Burke's lap. So in between sipping his Fresca, Burke sat in the Oval Office dutifully petting a dog. He couldn't have looked more like and 8-year-old boy if he tried, which was precisely what LBJ had in mind. Ted tried to suppress a laugh as he glanced at Burke.
From there, Ted tried resuming his remakrs, but it was clear to both him and Burke that Johnson had absolutely no interest in anything he had to report. Their command performance in the Oval Office had been just one more exercise in Johnson proving who was top dog.
Something tells me this kind of thing wouldn't have worked on Kennedy later in his career.
City officials in Englewood, New Jersey, are not happy about the possiility that Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi's might pitch his tent there (literally) when he attends the U.N. General Assembly meeting in September:
Englewood Mayor Michael Wildes said it would be offensive for Gaddafi even to be allowed a U.S. visa after Lockerbie bomber Abdel Basset al-Megrahi was given a "hero's welcome" on his return to Libya last week.
Megrahi was freed from a life sentence in a Scottish jail on compassionate grounds because he is dying of cancer.
An official at the Libyan mission to the United Nations confirmed Gaddafi planned to attend the General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York City but said there was no information about where he would stay. Gaddafi is scheduled to address the assembly on September 23.
Wildes said the Libyan embassy owns a 4.5-acre (1.8-hectare) property in Englewood next door to a Jewish school and a rabbi.
"People are infuriated that a financier of terrorism, who in recent days gave a hero's welcome to a convicted terrorist, would be welcomed to our shores, let alone reside in our city," Wildes told Reuters.
Artyom Korotayev/Epsilon/Getty Images
Last week in the Washington Post, Michael O'Hanlon lamented the inability of the U.S. military to get "boots on the ground" in peacekeeping operations in places like the Democratic Republic of the Congo. O'Hanlon, who served in the Peace Corps in Eastern Congo, made the case that an all-volunteer military force trained for peacekeeping could help overcome the current overstretch of the military and the U.S. hesitation to deploy peackeeping troops for fear of public outcry when, as in Somalia in 1993, casualties could result:
The notion is this: Ask for volunteers to join a peace operations division for two years. They would begin their service with, say, 12 weeks of boot camp and 12 weeks of specialized training and then would be deployable. They would receive the same compensation and health benefits as regular troops, given their age and experience. Out of a division of 15,000 troops, one brigade, or about 3,000 to 4,000 soldiers, could be sustained in the field at a time.This type of training would be modeled after standard practices in today's Army and Marine Corps. To be sure, soldiers and Marines in regular units usually go beyond this regimen to have many months of additional practice and exercise before being deployed. But the peace operations units could be led by a cadre of experienced officers and NCOs -- perhaps some of whom would be drawn back to military service after leaving...
The dangers of deploying such units to missions such as the one in Congo, would be real, but the risks would be acceptable. First, those volunteering would understand the risks and accept them. Second, in most civil conflicts such as Congo's, possible adversarial forces are not sophisticated. Soldiers in the new division would not need to execute complex operations akin to those carried out during the invasion of Iraq or current operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. They would largely monitor villages and refugee camps, inspect individuals to make sure they did not have illicit weapons, and call for help if they came under concerted attack.
agree with O'Hanlon's major point that it can be difficult for
peacekeeping operations to succeed without active U.S. support. Most
current missions are undermanned and underfunded, even for their
already very limited
mandates. I also think the volunteer idea has potential, but my hangup
is the idea of creating a separate track within the military that has
less training. Wouldn't it be better to ask for volunteers from within the armed forces and give them additional peacekeeping training?
To get a perspective on this proposal from the kind of person who might volunteer, I called my friend Marcus Williams, who at the last minute this spring chose to withdraw from his planned Peace Corps deployment in West Africa and instead apply to Officer Candidates School for the U.S. Marines.
Interestingly, Marcus cited peacekeeping and development as one of the reasons he hopes to join the Marines. "Arguably the Iraq war and Afghanistan are right now peace keeping missions. So it becomes kind of hard to define where people are deploying," he said. He added that for better or worse, working on development from within the military means you get resources that Peace Corps volunteers simply do not.
The proposed short training period and separation from the normal military also worried Williams, who graduated from Stanford in four years with both a degree in International Relations and a Masters in African Studies:
If you had people volunteering and there was less training involved, there's this sort of vision of the idealistic African advocate who's in college or going to college and may not have the serious commitment it takes to serve in the armed forces. They're going to end up in the field and not be a very effective unit. When it comes down to it you have to follow orders and accept very seriously that you might die.
Williams pointed out that for the Marine Corps, Officer Candidates School itself is almost 12 weeks and for those who choose to join afterward another six months or so of basic training is required.
Ultimately, Williams argued, if the U.S. wants to get serious about supporting peace-keeping operations in places like the DRC, that would be great, but U.S. troops aren't necessarily the key.
I think that if the U.S. were really committed to these peacekeeping operations we wouldn't be focused on getting U.S. boots on the ground. The cost of the Ghanaian peacekeeper on the ground is much less and if the U.S. peacekeeper is going to literally receive less training, it seems like it would be better to support other troops.
If the U.S. really wants to help, he said, it should focus on its comparative advantages:
flying helicopters, intelligence, communications operations. I'm thinking most of the peacekeepers in Sudan. They had boots on the ground but they didn't have any real logistics.
Does all this mean O'Hanlon's idea should be written off? Absolutely not, Williams said, it just needs some careful thought. "I think you'd have a lot of people interested in volunteering," he said.
ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images
Here's the battle in a nutshell. The Obama administration -- despite questions raised by eminences grises on Afghanistan, such as Harvard's Rory Stewart -- has chosen to double-down.
Walt argues that Obama's contention --"left unchecked the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which al Qaeda would plot to kill more Americans" -- is a myth. Therefore, realists should recognize it hardly justifies remaining in Afghanistan.
Not so, argue the AfPak Channel's Peter Bergen and NYU fellow Paul Cruickshank -- the Taliban do and would provide cover for al Qaeda, justifying the U.S. presence. (Here's a one-time tag for responses from within FP.)
We'll post more replies from other bloggers as they come in -- here's Windy security reporter Spencer Ackerman, for starters. If you've blogged it, leave it in comments!
So says Joshua Foust, writing on the World Politics Review blog:
Democratic elections usually rest on a few basic principles: a free and fair vote, an uncoerced selection of candidates, and an agreement by all parties to abide by the results. Afghanistan doesn't quite qualify for any of these.
Though not disputing the strategic importance in determining who will be in charge of the government, Foust makes a pretty convincing case that the elections aren't shaping up to look much like what most democracy promoters would have hoped:
*Take the idea of a free and fair vote. Pajhwok, an internationally-funded independent Afghan news service, has an entire news page set aside for incidents of voter intimidation -- and I don't mean by the Taliban (more on them later). It runs the gamut from the government arresting supporters of Abdullah Abdullah, to police killing Nuristanis for asking for enough ballot boxes to cast their votes.
*The government is building up "tribal security" forces modeled on the arbakai, a traditional tribal militia. Only, these forces are going to be different from all the other forces that have come before, will be given better weapons, and will not be subject to the disarmament and de-mobilization programs that have stood down other informal militias. In other words, they are flooding the country with guns to try to create security for the election.
*Shortly before the registration deadline passed, Gul Agha Sherzai -- the former-warlord governor of Nangarhar Province who had taken to American newspapers to make the case for his impending presidency -- abruptly withdrew his own nomination amid rumors of a deal cut with Hamid Karzai.
*Speaking of deals, what's "free and fair" about Karzai de-exiling a man like Abdul Rashid Dostum -- the Uzbek warlord who faces allegations of America-sponsored mass killings in 2001 -- to deliver the Uzbek vote?
The sudden return of Dostum and his quick endorsement of Karzai did seem particularly dirty. Karzai's government, after all, had exiled Dostum, and he was one of the stronger competitors to Karzai--though still very far off--in the 2004 election. At this point though, there is little anyone can do to protest. The elections must go on. Right?
Assuming the elections are not disrupted by violence, a related question will be how much progress, if any, Afghanistan has made since 2004. Is it more democratic, if not a democracy?
BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images
Wired correspondent Sharon Weinberger has a compelling investigative piece in the New York Post about the CIA's quest for Russian helicopters to sneak into Afghanistan before the full-scale U.S. invasion. It's a tale of secrecy, corruption, Siberian cold, and credit card rewards.
Here's a bit of Weinbeger's synopsis at Wired's Danger Room:
As with many “black” programs, the contract had elements of craziness: Contracting officials paid the multimillion-dollar contract on a credit card at a local El Paso bar and then used the credit card rebate to redecorate their office; the team traveled under the guise of being private contractors; and the charter crew transporting the group abandoned the team in Russia in the middle of the night.
Ultimately, a five-year investigation into the mission led to the conviction of the Army official in charge and the contractor who bought the helicopters on charges of corruption. The two men, currently in federal prison, are appealing their convictions.
The full article is a thrilling read.
For more of Weinberger's coverage of questionable helicopter contracting, check out her April piece, "How to get a no-bid contract for Russian choppers." Turns out being a middleman in U.S.-Russian arms deals is pretty lucrative.
When U.S. taxpayers shell out for these kinds of shenanigans, at least we're getting some entertainment value.
Above, Russian Mi-17s in 2007.
SERGEY PONOMAREV/AFP/Getty Images
The new U.S. ambassador to Britain, Louis Susman, has indicated he will not pay the 3.5 million pounds ($5.7 million!) in congestion charges the embassy owes the City of London.
Drivers pay 8 pounds a day for the privilege of driving in a central zone at peak hours -- but the U.S. embassy has refused to pay. The argument? The congestion charge is a tax, not a service fee. And embassies don't pay taxes.
The mayor's office and Transport for London, which administers the program, argue that around three-quarters of embassies pay the charge -- a service, not a tax -- and that the United States should do better than to rely on semantics to wiggle out of it.
I tend to think of congestion charges as taxes. They're designed to encourage certain behaviors and to make money for local governments. London spends the program's surplus (around a third of revenue, or nearly 90 million pounds, in 2007) on transport investment, for instance. But this still seems a little unseemly. What do you think?
Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo will today become the first Southeast Asian leader to visit the White House since Barack Obama was elected last year. On the agenda for the two presidents is the global financial crisis, climate change and terrorism -- a high priority for the Philippines that has consistently sought U.S. help in combating Muslim separatists on the southern island of Mindanao.
But back in Manila, the Philippine Daily Inquirer says Obama plans to "lecture Arroyo on democracy" during her visit. Since coming to power in 2001, the Philippine president has fielded numerous allegations of -- among others -- corruption, extrajudicial killings, torture, bribery and fraud. Arroyo's attempts to push through a charter change, instituting a unicameral parliamentary form of government and effectively allowing her to extend her term in office past June 2010, has sparked a great deal of opposition.
Social Weather Stations survey revealed
that 70 percent of Filipinos are opposed to amending the Constitution. Her current approval rating stands at
-31 percent, making even former U.S. President George W. Bush look
An estimated 10,000 protestors took to the streets on Monday in yet another anti-Arroyo demonstration. The Philipines has a history of "people power" movements and has twice ousted sitting presidents using popular mobilization. Arroyo (and Obama) would be wise to take heed.
Ted Aljibe/AFP/Getty images
Seven months ago, Hillary Rodham Clinton -- the powerful New York Senator, former First Lady, and runner-up in the brutally long Democratic primary competition -- became U.S. President Barack Obama's secretary of state. Since then, she's chastened North Korea, advocated on behalf of Burma, and rallied against Israeli settlement building. She's logged nearly 100,000 air miles. She's tirelessly pursued Obama's diplomatic agenda around the world.
And she's done it while fostering or demonstrating little friction with the White House she once hoped to occupy. Being secretary of state doesn't just require being a diplomat abroad. It requires being a diplomat in Washington. For, foreign policy is not and has never been the purview of State alone -- Clinton overlaps and dovetails and supports and creates policy with Obama, a spate of diplomatic envoys, the Departments of Homeland Security and Defense, the national security advisers, Vice President Joe Biden, et cetera. By all accounts, she's done well at that as well.
Not that you'd know it reading the paper. Too often, coverage of Clinton neglects the fact that the secretary of state has never been the sole creator of U.S. foreign policy. It also, far too often, focuses hyper-intently on the perceived narrative of how Clinton feels about her relationship with the White House -- rather than the actual relationship between Clinton and Obama or how she's doing her job.
Here are some main offenders.
Two weeks ago, Tina Brown took to the pages of the Daily Beast to proclaim that "It's time for Barack Obama to let Hillary Clinton take off her burqa." The article -- which makes a decent argument that Clinton's love of policy nitty-gritty means she's happy to play a supporting role -- is suffused with the speculative, the hypersensitive, and the hyperpersonal. It digresses into Clinton's relationship with her husband. And it seems shocked -- shocked! -- that Clinton might not mind being a good soldier in such a well-liked and well-run administration.
Other offenders come from less-opinionated sources.
On May 1, the New York Times' diplomatic correspondent Mark Landler published a profile of Hillary-in-situ, with the headline "Her Rival Now Her Boss, Clinton Settles Into New Role." The piece covered the secretary's tiring schedule and her jockeying for position amid other top foreign-policy thinkers in the administration.
But it also included a lot of strange diversions into Clinton's relationship with her husband and her family -- "Sad Hillary" anecdotes, as I like to call them. Take, for instance, this tart assessment of the way Clinton communicates her daughter, Chelsea: "[She] exchanges e-mail messages with her daughter, Chelsea, on her BlackBerry, which she is not allowed to use, for security reasons, at work."
Even worse was an April 1 story by the same author, about Clinton's participation at the G-20 meetings in London. Here's the lede:
For Hillary Rodham Clinton, arriving here on Tuesday night from The Hague was a lesson in the difference between being a supremely important person and just a very important one.
Mrs. Clinton's government plane was put into a holding pattern in the skies over Stansted Airport because air traffic had been backed up by Air Force One and other planes carrying world leaders to the economic summit meeting here. Once on the ground, her blue-and-white Boeing 757 taxied past President Obama's much larger 747, parking at a respectful distance.
Does the NYT honestly think anyone's surprised that the President's plane gets to go first? And do they honestly believe that it taught Hillary Clinton a lesson? I don't think so. The piece concludes with an anecdote about how Clinton brought a bunch of the tulip varietal named for her back to her hotel room -- whereas Obama got to stay in some sort of plush castle.
Of course, Clinton's a fascinating personal figure. And of course her relationship with the White House remains a topic major news outlets need to cover. This weekend, for instance, Clinton strayed far from the White House's line on Iran, taking a much harder position than other proxies on the issue of enrichment while speaking with Meet the Press.
I look forward to reading stories on that. But such strained coverage on the made-up narrative of Clinton's dislike of the parameters of her current job? No, thank you.
Photo: Flickr user sskennel
Honduras's interim government has sent a lobbying team to Washington to try to talk the Obama adminsitration out of its pledge to impose sanctions if ousted President Manuel Zelaya is not returned to power. I can't help thinking they don't quite understand the new U.S. president's priorities:
Appealing to free trade supporters, they hope to nudge the Obama administration away from its threat to impose sanctions on the impoverished country, where export-assembly factories are dominated by U.S. firms and investors.
"I imagine there would be some reaction from them" to trade sanctions, Amilcar Bulnes, head of the Honduran Council of Private Business, said Monday.
Zelaya's foes appear to hope President Barack Obama doesn't have the time or energy for this battle when he has weightier problems like his push to reform the U.S. health care system and turn around the economy.
"Honduras is a small, poor country," Bulnes said. "The world would look very bad if it takes out its wrath on this country."
Obama has never been much of a free trader, particularly when it conflicts with a political principle, and as for looking like a bully, the U.S. position on this issue puts it on the same side as the OAS and the EU, neither of whom have recognized the new government. In fact, the U.S. would more likely be accused of meddling if it didn't oppose the coup. It shouldn't be a surprise that the U.S. cares more about it's overall standing in the region (particularly with powerful regional players like Brazil) than it does about its relationship with Honduras.
This also seems ill advised:
Micheletti vowed not to back down - and implied that Washington is betraying a staunch ally, one that let its territory be used as a staging area for U.S.-backed Contra rebels battling Nicaragua's leftist Sandinista government during the 1980s and more recently sent troops to Iraq.
Touting your country's role in two of the most controversial Republican foreign policy ventures of the last quarter century is not really the best way to win over a Democratic president who (I'm just assuming with Nicaragua.) opposed both of them.
U.S. ambassador Hugo Llorens claims that the Obama administration had tried to talk the parliament and military out of the coup, but the interim government still seems genuinely shocked that the U.S. has not backed them up. Micheletti and co. may have assumed that when push came to shove, the U.S. was not going to stand up for Zelaya, a power-hungry, leftist who also happened to be backed by Hugo Chavez. They seem to have profoundly misjudged the degree to which the new administration values international public opinion over regime type.
Still, speaking of Sandinistas, I think Daniel Ortega may be pushing his luck.
YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Image
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili (2R) cuts a cake symbolizing Georgian-US friendship during his tour at the USS Stout anchored in the Black Sea port of Batumi on July 16, 2009. The US started today joint exercises with Georgia, the first between the two countries since the former Soviet republic's war with giant neighbour Russia.
IRAKLI GEDENIDZE/AFP/Getty Images
As promised, Barack Obama recorded a video response to several questions from Africans submitted by text message about his administration's policy towards Africa.
That only three were answered is probably a let down to the more than 5,000 people who submitted questions. However, the White House tried to reiterate its interest in African concerns by allowing three African journalists from Senegal, Kenya and South Africa to each select a question. The video is below and to summarize the three questions were:
These aren't exactly the hardest questions ever, and Obama had time to prepare, but the video, which was released to African radio and tv stations, shows a president who in his own words, is "probably as knowledgeable about African history as anybody who's occupied my office."
This is a good thing. Now let's see how the policy measures up.
From the Financial Times coverage of Obama's arrival in Ghana (seen at right):
“When a white man like the French president comes to tell you to put your house in order it is seen as an offence. When a black brother comes it is good advice,” Ablade Glover, the Ghanaian painter, said.
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
The relationship and power dynamic between Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin remains intriguingly mysterious for the Western media. But it's interesting to see how Russian papers are doing their own "Kremlinology" on factions in the White House. This Nezavistimaya Gazeta article, via Johnson's Russia List, theorizes about Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's absence on Obama's trip to Russia. It's seems they're not buying the broken arm story:
In any event, Obama is not going to be accompanied by State Secretary Hillary Clinton on this visit, and experts ascribe it to two considerations (the formal explanation concerning Clinton's elbow trauma is dismissed, of course). First, official Moscow associates the incumbent US State Secretary with Bill Clinton's Administration and everything that transpired in its period - war in Yugoslavia, 1998 default. Second, the US President apparently wants the triumph he counts on for his own, without the necessity to share it with the Clintons whose clan occupies commanding heights in the Democratic Party.
Robert S. McNamara, probably the most influential (and most controversial) secretary of defense in U.S. history, passed away this morning.
Because of his role in the Vietnam war, Mcnamara will likely be remembered as an archetypal cold warrior. In his retirement however, McNamara became an outspoken advocate of nuclear disarmament. His cover story from the May/June 2005 issue of Foreign Policy remains a must-read on the topic, particularly given today's talks in Moscow:
Among the costs of maintaining nuclear weapons is the risk—to me an unacceptable risk—of use of the weapons either by accident or as a result of misjudgment or miscalculation in times of crisis. The Cuban Missile Crisis demonstrated that the United States and the Soviet Union—and indeed the rest of the world—came within a hair’s breadth of nuclear disaster in October 1962.
Indeed, according to former Soviet military leaders, at the height of the crisis, Soviet forces in Cuba possessed 162 nuclear warheads, including at least 90 tactical warheads. At about the same time, Cuban President Fidel Castro asked the Soviet ambassador to Cuba to send a cable to Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev stating that Castro urged him to counter a U.S. attack with a nuclear response. Clearly, there was a high risk that in the face of a U.S. attack, which many in the U.S. government were prepared to recommend to President Kennedy, the Soviet forces in Cuba would have decided to use their nuclear weapons rather than lose them. Only a few years ago did we learn that the four Soviet submarines trailing the U.S. Naval vessels near Cuba each carried torpedoes with nuclear warheads. Each of the sub commanders had the authority to launch his torpedoes. The situation was even more frightening because, as the lead commander recounted to me, the subs were out of communication with their Soviet bases, and they continued their patrols for four days after Khrushchev announced the withdrawal of the missiles from Cuba.
The lesson, if it had not been clear before, was made so at a conference on the crisis held in Havana in 1992, when we first began to learn from former Soviet officials about their preparations for nuclear war in the event of a U.S. invasion. Near the end of that meeting, I asked Castro whether he would have recommended that Khrushchev use the weapons in the face of a U.S. invasion, and if so, how he thought the United States would respond. “We started from the assumption that if there was an invasion of Cuba, nuclear war would erupt,” Castro replied. “We were certain of that…. [W]e would be forced to pay the price that we would disappear.” He continued, “Would I have been ready to use nuclear weapons? Yes, I would have agreed to the use of nuclear weapons.” And he added, “If Mr. McNamara or Mr. Kennedy had been in our place, and had their country been invaded, or their country was going to be occupied … I believe they would have used tactical nuclear weapons.”
I hope that President Kennedy and I would not have behaved as Castro suggested we would have. His decision would have destroyed his country. Had we responded in a similar way the damage to the United States would have been unthinkable. But human beings are fallible. In conventional war, mistakes cost lives, sometimes thousands of lives. However, if mistakes were to affect decisions relating to the use of nuclear forces, there would be no learning curve. They would result in the destruction of nations. The indefinite combination of human fallibility and nuclear weapons carries a very high risk of nuclear catastrophe. There is no way to reduce the risk to acceptable levels, other than to first eliminate the hair-trigger alert policy and later to eliminate or nearly eliminate nuclear weapons. The United States should move immediately to institute these actions, in cooperation with Russia. That is the lesson of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Mcnamara also discussed topic at length in Errol Moris' superb 2003 documentary, The Fog of War, much of which is available on YouTube:
Syria's leader sent a July 4 message full of praise to President Barack Obama on Friday and invited him to visit Syria -- the latest signs Damascus is hedging its bets in Mideast politics, warming up to its rival the United States at a time when its longtime ally Iran is in turmoil. [...]
Assad sent a telegram to Obama on the occasion of the July 4 Independence Day holiday, saying, "The values that were adopted by President Obama during his election campaign and after he was elected president are values that the world needs today."
"It is very important to adopt the principle of dialogue in relations with countries based on respect and mutual interest," Assad said in the telegram, which was carried by state-run news agency SANA.
In an interview with Britain's Sky News, Assad invited Obama to visit Damascus to discuss Mideast peace.
''We would like to welcome him in Syria, definitely. I am very clear about this,'' Assad said in English. Asked whether such a visit could take place soon, Assad said: ''That depends on him.''He added with a smile, ''I will ask you to convey the invitation to him.''
I'll be interested to see if Obama takes up Assad's offer. No U.S. president has been to Syria since 1994, when Bill Clinton visited Damascus.
Historically, the Assads have sometimes seemed queasy about their alliance with the Iranian regime. So, it's not too surprising that, with Tehran in political turmoil and lashing out at foreigners, Syria is lining up a potential Plan B.
Reporting on the launch of the new congressional "sovereignty caucus," a group of GOP senators opposed to international law and institutions, David Weigel writes about how the confirmation battle over Harold Koh could set the stage for a confrontation over the long-debated Law of the Sea treaty and a few others:
While Republicans and conservative activists were disappointed by the confirmation of Koh, the long delay leading up to the vote and its relative closeness — 65 to 31 to end debate on the nomination and 62-35 to confirm him — have boosted their hopes of successfully battling treaties that they characterize as threats to American rights and national interests. Treaties need the votes of 67 senators to be ratified, and can gum up the business of the Senate for weeks if they become flash points for controversy. The Convention on the Rights of the Child, for example, has convinced Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.) — a member of the House Sovereignty Caucus — to introduce a Constitutional amendment protecting the right of American parents to discipline their children and send them to religious schools.
Those hopes are likely to be tested at least twice this year. According to staffers for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, or the Law of the Sea Treaty — a 1982 treaty that governs the right of countries to use the oceans — could be reintroduced next month. And President Obama is in Russia this week in part to move forward the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, the 1996 agreement on weapons testing that was rejected by the Senate in 1999, when the upper chamber contained 55 Republicans and 45 Democrats. Of the 16 treaties that the State Department included on its priority list in a May 11 letter to the committee, both sides agree that these two will be the first to face full votes. And both sides agree that the Koh vote provided a good idea of the support these treaties might command from a very skeptical Senate Republican conference.
“The vote against Harold Koh is probably the minimum vote against both of those treaties,” said John Bolton, who served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under George W. Bush, and who has been a forceful critic of both treaties. “I think that a lot of Republicans, whether they agreed or disagreed with Koh’s views, basically agreed that president had the right to appoint his own team. Whether they would also support these treaties, given their concerns about national sovereignty, is another question.”
Commander James Kraska of the Naval War College made the case for Law of the Sea on FP back in February, arguing that by holding up ratification, congress is only aiding China's efforts to unilaterally redefine international law. Law of the Sea is just one of those issues doomed by the fact that not that many people care about it, but those who, care about it a lot.
During the past two weeks, diplomats and experts have continued to watch nervously as a U.S. destroyer has shadowed the North Korean transport ship Kang Nam 1. Now, the ship has apparently turned around -- and nobody in the U.S. defense establishment knows what to make of it.
U.S. officials said Tuesday that a North Korean ship has turned around and is headed back toward the north where it came from, after being tracked for more than a week by American Navy vessels on suspicion of carrying illegal weapons.
The move keeps the U.S. and the rest of the international community guessing: Where is the Kang Nam going? Does its cargo include materials banned by a new U.N. anti-proliferation resolution?[...]
The U.N. resolution allows the international community to ask for permission to board and search any suspect ship on the seas. If permission for inspection is refused, authorities can ask for an inspection in whichever nation where the ship pulls into port.
North Korea has said it would consider any interception of its ships a declaration of war.
Two officials had said earlier in the day Tuesday that the Kang Nam had been moving very slowly in recent days, something that could signal it was trying to conserve fuel.
They said they didn't know what the turnaround of the ship means, nor what prompted it.
The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, said Sunday that Washington was "following the progress of that ship very closely," but she would not say whether the U.S. would confront the Kang Nam.
Even before the unexpected reverse in course, some in Washington were beginning to doubt the whole operation:
Inside the White House, they are beginning to call it "The Cruise to Nowhere."
For more than two weeks now, White House officials have been receiving frequent updates on a rusting North Korean ship, the Kang Nam 1, as it makes its way dead-slow across the South China Sea. Earlier this month, Mr. Obama's aides thought the aging hulk - with its long rap sheet for surreptitious deliveries of missiles and arms - would be the first test of a United Nations Security Council resolution giving countries the right to hail suspect shipments, and order them to a nearby port for inspection.
But now some top officials in the Obama administration are beginning to wonder whether Kim Jong-il, the North Korean leader, ordered the Kang Nam 1 out on a fishing expedition - in hopes that a new American president will be his first catch.
"The whole thing just doesn't add up," said one senior administration official who has been tracking the cargo ship's lazy summer journey. "My worry is that we make a big demand about seeing the cargo, and then there's a tense standoff, and when it's all over we discover that old man Kim set us up to look like George Bush searching for nonexistent W.M.D."
With this kind of "made-you-look" trickery, perhaps Kim Jong Il has been taking lessons from Lucy van Pelt.
KHIN MAUNG WIN/AFP/Getty Images
As I wrote yesterday, one of the nice things about the post-Cold War era is that the leaders of military coups can no longer count on U.S. or Soviet support purely on the basis of ideology, and therefore, even in the rare instance that they do still succeed, have less of a chance of establishing dictatorships. Evidently, however, however, coup-plotters can still count on Charles Krauthammer's support.
The Washington Post columnist and Fox News commentator attacks the Obama administration in the above clip for taking the side of ousted leftist leader Manuel Zelaya and reccomends the following bizarre rule of thumb for U.S. Latin America policy:
Whenever you find yourself on the side of Hugo Chavez, Daniel Ortega and the Castro twins, you ought to reexamine your assumptions.
Well, ok. But what if you also find yourself on the side of reliably pro-American conservatives like Colombia's Alvaro Uribe and Mexico's Felipe Calderon as well as influential moderate leftist leaders like Brazil's Lula Inacio da Silva, Argentina's Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and Chile's Michelle Bachelet? Perhaps then you might come to the conclusion that the U.S. position on the events in Honduras should be decided not on where the players involved fall in the zero-sum, dialectical struggle for Latin America's soul, but whether this is really the best way to protect the country's democracy and the stability of the region.
Brooking Institution scholar and former Costa Rican minister of planning Kevin Casas Zamora, no fan of Zelaya, came to this conclusion in a piece for FP yesterday:
An illegal referendum has met an illegal military intervention, with the avowed intention of protecting the Constitution. Zelaya's civilian opponents, meanwhile, are celebrating. For the past week, the Honduran Congress has waxed lyrical about the armed forces as the guarantors of the Constitution, a disturbing notion for Latin Americans. At the very least, we are witnessing in Honduras the return of the unfortunate role of the military as the ultimate referee in political conflicts among civilian leaders, a huge step back in the region's consolidation of democracy.
That's why Zelaya, though he bears by far the greater responsibility for this crisis, must be reinstated in his position as the legitimate president of Honduras. The Organization of American States, the neighboring countries, and the U.S. government (which is still enormously influential in Honduras) should demand no less. They should also call upon all political actors in Honduras to take a deep breath and do what mature democracies do: allow the law to deal with those who try to step outside it. If Zelaya must be prosecuted for his harebrained attempt to subvert the Honduran Constitution, then let the courts proceed as rigorously as possible. And the same applies to the coup perpetrators. If Honduras is to have a decent future, its politicians and soldiers, in equal measure, must learn that the road to democracy and development runs through the rule of law.
Or you could just keep pretending that the Soviets are on the verge of taking over Latin America.
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