FARQaeda comes to Congress

Not sure if Florida Representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Connie Mack's proposal to add Venezuela to the list of countries whose travelers will require extra scrutiny to enter the United States will go anywhere, but I was interested to see the FARC-al Qaeda alliance meme (I've been recently informed that the proper term is "El Qaeda") being used in Congress: 

For her part, Rep. Ros-Lehtinen cited DEA reports that demonstrate a Venezuelan connection in a new alliance formed between the FARC and al Qaeda, in which the oil producing nation plays the part of a ``massive airport for the use of the traffickers.''

``It is no surprise that Hugo Chávez allows Venezuela to serve as a massive airport for the use of traffickers. In fact the DEA has said that all the planes captured in West Africa left from Venezuela,'' Ros-Lehtinen said.

She explained that the recent arrest of three African agents of al Qaeda after a drug smuggling operation showed a new panorama of cooperation between Islamic extremist groups and those of South American narco-guerrillas.

``Groups like the FARC are finding new ways to sell drugs in Europe by means of al Qaeda in Africa. And al Qaeda is more than willing to use the drug trade to help finance its extremist agenda,'' Ros-Lehtinen said.

As I wrote earlier this week, the arrest of the three Africans, whose relationship to al Qaeda is still somewhat unclear, did not show a "new panorama" of anything. The men were arrested for making a deal with a DEA agent who was posing as a representative of FARC. Unless there's some unreported evidence, it's far from clear the al Qaeda and FARC are actually in cahoots.

Again, I'm not saying that the potential for such a partnership isn't there, but I wish that lawmakers would stop viewing this arrest as proof of a grand trans-Atlantic axis of evil.

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Mike Mullen: Relationship Guru

This is apparently the week of Mike Mullen's media blitz. Fresh off appearing on The Daily Show Wednesday night, I watched the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff deliver remarks yesterday at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. While admittedly a different venue, it is a sad fact that Executive Director Rob Satloff, in leading the question and answer session, let a perfect opportunity to break into a Jon Stewart impression slip through his fingers.  In any case, it is not hard to see why the Obama team would want to roll out Mullen: He comes across as sober and well-informed, and doesn't give the impression that he's spinning the audience even while he sells the administration's line.

Mullen was generally bullish on Iraq, saying that he was encouraged that "there was not a sectarian response" to the latest round of terrorist attacks in Baghdad, and that the Iraqi government is adapting to the threat. America's involvement in Afghanistan and Pakistan was a different story. Mullen stated that the U.S. relationship with these two countries must be based on "re-learned trust - because we have lost trust."

Pakistan, rather than Afghanistan, was the real focus of Mullen's remarks. Mullen stated that he had recently made his fourteenth trip to Pakistan, and that the army of Pakistani Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani "had had to learn counter-insurgency, much like we have." He spoke admiringly of what the Pakistani military has accomplished in kicking Islamic militants out of the Swat Valley, with "minimal collateral damage," last year.  "Quite frankly, there wouldn't have been many of us that would have expected that kind of outcome," he noted.

The broader theme Mullen was driving home here was the importance of building long-standing relationships with foreign governments, and particularly their militaries, as a prerequisite to success. We were slowly rebuilding our relationship with Afghanistan and Iraq, he said. Our relationship with Pakistan was still suffering after it was broken following the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. And he attributed our ongoing difficulties in negotiations with Iran -- which he said openly had a "strategic intent to develop nuclear weapons" -- with the 30-year rift in the U.S.-Iranian relationship. Adm. Michael Mullen: media star and relationship guru. Only in Washington D.C.

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