Sunday, February 28, 2010

U.S.A. Government is utterly corrupt beyond redemption

U.S.A. Government is utterly corrupt and utterly beyond redemption...!-The-five-steps-of-the-global-geopolitical-dislocation-phase_a4420.html

The more OBOMBA talks, the less people listen. We have heard so much from him that his words carry less and less weight.... It is the law of diminishing returns.

On the day last week when President Obama was hosting his health-care summit -- and struggling to make a fractured political system work -- a quiet event was taking place on Capitol Hill that celebrated a moment when political will and idealism fused to produce the liberation of millions of people.

The gathering in the Capitol commemorated the address that Czech President Vaclav Havel made 20 years ago to a joint session of Congress in which he proclaimed his country's new freedom, and that of other previously captive nations of Eastern Europe, from the Soviet Union.

Havel gave a brilliant speech, perhaps most of all for its affirmation that political destiny is not fixed by material forces, as Soviet Marxists had claimed, but is a product of people and ideas. At the center of the speech was this passage: "The salvation of this human world lies nowhere else than in the human heart, in the human power to reflect, in human meekness and in human responsibility."

I have in my study a little chunk of the Berlin Wall, which is a reminder that political life is not immutable. Empires, good and evil, arise in our world, and they fall, too, based largely on whether their political systems have the strength and suppleness to solve problems.

It was difficult last week to be sanguine about the health of American politics. Measured by the simple test of whether it can solve problems, the system isn't working. Obama's struggle to pass health-care legislation is the most striking current example of this impasse. But the same dysfunction was evident when the administration of George W. Bush tried to pass a reasonably enlightened response to illegal immigration. Efforts to fix the system seem to vanish into the vortex of partisanship and special-interest corruption.

"History has accelerated," Havel said in his speech. That surely remains true, but it doesn't necessarily mean that it's moving forward. You can have reverse acceleration in politics, too.

This idea of accelerating decline is the subject of a powerful essay by Harvard historian Niall Ferguson in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs. His idea is that political empires are complex, adaptive systems in which small changes can produce disproportionately large differences in outcomes. We think of the decline and fall of Rome, say, as taking place over a long period as decay rots through the system.

But, in fact, says Ferguson, the process of decline can be sudden and convulsive. The Roman Empire's final collapse "came within the span of a single generation," he says. The unraveling of the Ming dynasty "took little more than a decade." The Soviet Union's demise came less than five years after Mikhail Gorbachev took power promising to reform the system.

Ferguson's historical gloss is meant as an object lesson for the United States, of course. As the cover headline for his article warns ominously, "When the American empire goes, it is likely to go quickly."

I hear people worrying more and more that our political system is broken. Sen. Evan Bayh said it when he announced that he wouldn't run for reelection. Sen. John McCain said it often during his long battle for campaign-finance reform. President Obama says it, one way or another, almost every week. It's the one thing that Democrats and Republicans seem to agree on.

And yet, it's the problem that nobody is able to fix: We've had waves of conservative and liberal resurgence over the past three decades. But the consistent trend amid these cycles, I would argue, is growing political dysfunction, no matter who is running Congress and the White House.

It's usually a mistake to bet against America, as financier Warren Buffett likes to say, given our flexible economy and adaptive political system. The American system seemed at an impasse in the years before the Civil War, and again during the presidency of Herbert Hoover, and once again during the presidency of Jimmy Carter. But it survived these crises and went on to prosper as never before.

Havel described America's special gift this way: "You have thousands of problems of all kinds, as other countries do. But you have one great advantage: You have been approaching democracy uninterruptedly for more than 200 years."

But the system doesn't guarantee success. Good nations can go into decline, too, when they lose their ability to respond to trouble.

Obama tried a new approach Thursday to breaking the logjam, gathering both parties around one big table. He makes a good prime minister, but the party of inertia is strong.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

A "Good" Terrorist Captured by Iran

Destabilizing Iran?


The Iranian government is celebrating the capture of Abdolmalek Rigi, the leader of a violent group called Jundullah (Arabic for Soldiers of God), which Tehran says is a terrorist organization supported by the United States, Great Britain and Israel.

Jundullah is one of several groups that have been conducting bombings and other violent attacks against Iran’s Islamic regime with the aim of knocking it off balance.

In a July 7, 2008, article for The New Yorker magazine, investigative journalist Seymour Hersh quoted Robert Baer, a former CIA clandestine officer who worked in South Asia and the Middle East for nearly two decades, as saying that Jundullah was one of the militant groups in Iran benefiting from U.S. support.

Hersh also reported that President George W. Bush signed an intelligence finding in late 2007 that allocated up to $400 million for covert operations intended to destabilize Iran’s government, in part, by supporting militant organizations.

Hersh identified another one of the militant groups with “long-standing ties” to the CIA and the U.S. Special Operations communities as the Mujahedin-e-Khalq, or MEK, which has been put on the State Department’s list of terrorist groups.

But Jundullah has been spared that designation, a possible indication that the U.S. government views it as a valuable asset in the face-off against Iran, or in the parlance of the “war on terror,” as one of the “good guys.”

Gen. Mizra Aslam, Pakistan’s former Army chief, has charged that the U.S. has been supporting Jundullah with training and other assistance. But the U.S. government denies that it has aided Rigi or his group.

Since his capture this week, Rigi has been weaving intricate, though inconclusive, stories about his contacts with American officials. According to Iran’s Press TV, Rigi said the United States promised Jundullah military aid in support of its insurgency against the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Rigi described contacts in March 2009, claiming that U.S. representatives “said they would cooperate with us and will give me military equipment, arms and machine guns. They also promised to give us a base along the border with Afghanistan next to Iran."

Destabilize Iran

Rigi asserted that the U.S. representatives said a direct U.S. attack on Iran would be too costly and that Washington instead favored supporting militant groups that could destabilize Iran.

"The Americans said Iran was going its own way and they said our problem at the present is Iran… not al-Qaeda and not the Taliban, but the main problem is Iran,” Rigi said, according to Press TV.

"One of the CIA officers said that it was too difficult for us [the United States] to attack Iran militarily, but we plan to give aid and support to all anti-Iran groups that have the capability to wage war and create difficulty for the Iranian (Islamic) system,” Rigi said.

Rigi added that the Americans said they were willing to provide support “at an extensive level.” However, in Press TV’s account, Rigi did not describe any specific past U.S. support for his organization.

Iran's security forces announced that they had arrested Rigi on Tuesday by bringing down his plane over Iranian airspace, as he was onboard a flight from the United Arab Emirates to Kyrgyzstan, where he said he was expecting to meet with a “high-ranking” U.S. official.

Rigi’s capture represents an embarrassment for Western and Israeli intelligence, which have tried to stir up Iran’s minorities, comprising almost half of the population. Jundullah contends that it is protecting the rights of Sunnis in Shiite-dominated Iran.

Reflecting Priorities

The unwelcome spotlight on Rigi and Jundullah threatens to bring out of the shadows a broader U.S. and Israeli strategy for regime change in Tehran, a goal that dates back at least to President Bush’s “axis of evil” speech in 2002.

According to this analysis, the fear about Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon in a few years – if it decides to restart the weapons part of its nuclear development program – is largely a synthetic rationale for ratcheting up tensions, much as Bush’s claims about Iraq’s non-existent WMD were a pretext for regime change in Baghdad.

Under such a scenario, “good guy” terrorists like Jundullah could be enlisted for purposes other than simple violence and disruption. For example, they could be used to sabotage any favorable Iranian response to President Barack Obama’s efforts toward engagement.

And this precisely is what Jundullah did last October, right after the Ahmadinejad government gave tangible proof that it was ready to engage on the nuclear issue in response to Obama’s call for negotiations.

On Oct. 1, 2009, Tehran shocked virtually everyone by agreeing to send most (as much as 75 percent) of its low-enriched uranium abroad to be turned into fuel for a small reactor that produces medical isotopes.

Even the New York Times acknowledged that this, “if it happens, would represent a major accomplishment for the West, reducing Iran’s ability to make a nuclear weapon quickly, and buying more time for negotiations to bear fruit.”

Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, gave Tehran’s agreement “in principle,” at a meeting in Geneva of representatives of members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, chaired by Javier Solana of the European Union.

Reversing the Bush administration’s allergy to talking with “bad guys,” Obama had sent Under Secretary of State William Burns to the Geneva meeting. A 45-minute tête-à-tête between Burns and Jalili marked the highest-level U.S.-Iranian talks in three decades.

Jalili also expressed Iran’s agreement to open the newly revealed uranium enrichment plant near Qum to international inspection within two weeks, which Tehran did.

Enter Jundullah

However, on Oct. 18, 2009, Jundullah detonated a car bomb at a meeting of top Iranian Revolutionary Guards commanders and tribal leaders in the province of Sistan-Baluchistan in southeastern Iran and mounted a roadside attack on a car full of Guards in the same area.

A brigadier general who was deputy commander of the Revolutionary Guards ground forces, the Revolutionary Guards brigadier commanding Sistan-Baluchistan, and three other brigade commanders were killed in the attack; dozens of other military officers and civilians were left dead or wounded.

Jundullah took credit for the bombings, which followed years of lethal attacks on Revolutionary Guards and Iranian policemen, including an attempted ambush of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s motorcade as he drove through Sistan-Baluchistan in 2005.

The Oct. 18 attack – the bloodiest in Iran since the 1980-88 war with Iraq – came one day before talks were to resume at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna to follow up on the Oct. 1 breakthrough. The killings surely raised Iran’s suspicions about U.S. sincerity regarding better relations.

It’s a safe bet that the Revolutionary Guards went directly to their patron, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, with evidence that the West cannot be trusted. Khamenei issued a statement on Oct. 19 condemning the terrorists, whom he charged “are supported by certain arrogant powers’ spy agencies.”

The commander of the Guards’ ground forces, who lost his deputy in the attack, charged that the terrorists were “trained by America and Britain in some of the neighboring countries,” and the commander-in-chief of the Revolutionary Guards threatened retaliation.

A lower-level Iranian technical delegation did go to Vienna for the meeting on Oct. 19, but Iran’s leading nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili stayed away. The Iranians began to raise objections foreshadowing backsliding on their earlier commitment in principle to the export of most of their low-enriched uranium.

New Alternatives

Still, since then, the Iranians have broached alternative proposals that seemed worth exploring — for example, sending for further enrichment smaller quantities of low-enriched uranium in stages.

However, the Obama administration has rejected these alternative proposals out of hand, reportedly at the instigation of White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel and neocon regional emissary Dennis Ross, whose apparent priority is to avoid anything that might strengthen Ahmadinejad.

In other words, despite the rhetoric about the need to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, regime change appears to remain the transcendent goal of neocon-lite Democrats at the White House and in Hillary Clinton’s State Department.

These neocon-lites seem to have adopted the benighted view that the Iranian regime will crumble, if enough outside pressure is applied.

Add to the mix, the constant harping about the “fraudulent” election last June and support for regime opponents who will not accept the election results, which non-propagandistic and reputable polls indicate Ahmadinejad really did win. [See’s “US Media Replays Iraq Fiasco in Iran.”]

Oh, yes; “crippling sanctions” are also in the picture.

Tehran Still Ready to Negotiate

Despite these obstacles, Iran’s post-October 1 proposals on the nuclear issue strongly suggest that Tehran is still willing to negotiate. But it appears that Secretary Clinton and others inside the Obama administration, whether neocons or neocon-lites, don’t actually want a deal.

The way they seem to see it is that an agreement on the nuclear issue would make regime change that much more difficult.

Which raises the question of who provided Jundullah the kind of intelligence and direction that enabled the bloody attack of Oct. 1 — and why?

Cui bono? Who profits from the kind of violence that hardens the attitudes of the Revolutionary Guards and their patron Khamenei, and enables the West to portray them as reneging on the October agreement in principle.

Answer: Israel's right-wing government, the American neocons and others who won’t give up on long-cherished dreams of regime change in Tehran, which would then supposedly lead to a cut-off of Iran’s support for Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Palestine’s Hamas.

The truth be told, few well-informed analysts in either the United States or Israel actually believe there is an imminent nuclear threat from Iran, which has encountered technical problems refining uranium even to low levels that are suitable for generating nuclear energy.

But that doesn’t stop the gamesmanship toward Iran anymore than the lack of WMD evidence stopped President Bush from whipping up an alarm about Iraq in 2002-03.

Does Secretary Clinton really expect to be taken seriously with her Rumsfeldian demand that Iran prove a negative — that it is NOT working on a nuclear weapon?

In a major speech last week in Doha, Clinton decried the fact that Iran “has refused to demonstrate to the international community that its program is entirely peaceful.” Remember when the Bush administration demanded that Iraq’s Saddam Hussein prove he didn’t have chemical and biological weapons?

In that same speech, Clinton let slip that Iran “doesn’t directly threaten the United States, but it directly threatens a lot of our friends, allies, and partners” — read Israel, which itself possesses an estimated 200-300 nuclear weapons in its undeclared arsenal.

Like other senior U.S. officials – and all major U.S. news outlets – Clinton forgets to mention that on Sept. 18, 2009, the IAEA member states formally voted to call on Israel to join the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and submit its nuclear facilities to the same oversight that nearly all other nations do.

Israel issued an official statement that it “deplores” that vote, and U.S. Ambassador Glyn Davies rejected the resolution, claiming that it unfairly singled out Israel.

In her Doha speech, Clinton insisted that it is the Iranian “nuclear weapons military program” that all should be concerned about. She bemoaned “the rise of influence and power by the Revolutionary Guard — which is really tragic.”

Well, Madam Secretary, you might want to talk to CIA Director Leon Panetta about putting the reins on Jundullah and other violent groups so as not to empower the Revolutionary Guards still further — unless the hardening of lines on both sides suits some grander purpose.

Iraq Redux

We know from official British documents (the “Downing Street Memos”) that, on July 20, 2002, former CIA chief George Tenet told the head of British intelligence that President Bush had decided to make war on Iraq for regime change and that the war would be justified by spreading fear that Saddam Hussein might give weapons of mass destruction to terrorists.

The British intelligence chief, Richard Dearlove, explained to Tony Blair and his top national security officials that, according to Tenet, the intelligence would be “fixed” around the policy.

Not only full-scale neocons but also wannabe neocons like Secretary Clinton and U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice are now taking the same line and doing the same “fixing” about Iran.

Ambassador Rice recently charged that Iran is pursuing “a nuclear weapons program with the purpose of evasion.” Clinton professes to be “deeply concerned” over what she calls “Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.”

Clinton and Rice should check with National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair, who is still using the subjunctive regarding the possibility of a restarted Iranian nuclear weapons program.

As for me, I’m deeply concerned at the widespread impression that the Secretary and others have fostered. A CNN poll last week indicated that 70 percent of Americans are in the same indicative mood, believing that Iran already has a nuclear weapon. That’s downright eerie — a flashback to Iraq.

If memory serves, that’s about the same percentage of Americans who were convinced that Saddam Hussein had WMD on the eve of the invasion of Iraq.

Condoleezza-Type Whirling

During her final year as Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice was racking up so many frequent-flyer miles jetting back and forth to Israel that wistful Arabs decided that the definition of “condoleezza” must be perpetual motion signifying nothing.

Now, her successor – joined by other senior U.S. officials – is engaged in similarly peripatetic endeavors.

Leon Panetta, National Security Adviser James Jones, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen have all visited Israel since January, and Vice President Joe Biden will be there next week.

Meanwhile, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak is visiting Washington this week, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will arrive next month.

Perhaps, we should hope that this is just pointless whirling about, rather than something more serious. But these high-level meetings are occurring against a continued backdrop of U.S. and Israeli disdain for international law.

Senior American officials, dating back at least to the post-World War II Nuremberg Tribunal, deemed aggressive war to be a war crime. Although I don’t recall anyone rescinding the Nuremberg principles or amending the U.N. Charter, one hears cheerful talk from both American pundits and some U.S. officials that “everything is on the table” regarding Iran.

One asks: including another war of aggression? The answer: Don’t you know what “everything” means?

This is profoundly unsettling for those of us who thought that disdainful trashing of post-World War II agreements would stop when Bush and Cheney rode off into the sunset. Even if couched in the Orwellian language of “preventive” or “preemptive” war, “a public threat to engage in aggressive war” is itself a violation of the U.N. Charter. Does no one care?

Neoconning Forward

Neocon pundits continue to stoke these fires. In Tuesday’s Washington Post, for example, columnist Anne Applebaum listed a number of utilitarian reasons why President Obama will not bomb Iran. (International law was not one.)

Applebaum suggests, though, that Obama’s “defining moment” could come when he is awakened at 2:00 AM by a call from Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu who tells him “Israel has just carried out a raid on Iranian nuclear sites. What then?”

“If that ever happened,” Applebaum writes, “I do hope that this administration is ready, militarily and psychologically … for an unwanted war of necessity.”

The message? Disregard the intelligence that doubts the Iranians are building a nuclear bomb: no, better still, “fix” it to suggest that they are.

Then, turn loose the Jundullahs to worsen tensions and to strengthen the hands of Iran’s hardliners who will cite violent provocations as proof that the United States is not acting in good faith; that will add to the impression of a gathering threat; next institute crippling sanctions to further ramp up the anger.

And be ready, in case Netanyahu starts something the United States will have to finish.

If this kind of scenario is allowed to play out, hostilities with Iran will make the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan look like volleyball games between Mount Saint Ursula and Holy Name high schools. Can President Obama be so naïve as to be unaware of the stakes here?

Ray McGovern was an Army officer and CIA analyst for almost 30 year. He now serves on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity.

Friday, February 26, 2010

The "Garbage Time " Strategy of Israel....

"... If Hizballah and HAMAS are not seeking an armed confrontation with Israel in coming months, does Israel want another war in Lebanon and/or Gaza? Certainly, the Israeli posture toward both Lebanon and Gaza has grown increasingly provocative. Violations of Lebanese airspace by Israeli military aircraft are not new, but have increased dramatically in recent weeks. For the past several weeks, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri has been warning of escalating Israeli threats against Lebanon. On a state visit to Italy earlier this week, Hariri said explicitly that Israel is seeking war with “Lebanon, Syria, and Iran”. Likewise, earlier this month, Syrian President Assad said that Israel is “pushing the region toward war”. Israel also appears to be stepping up the pace of its military incursions in Gaza and engaging in more skirmishes with HAMAS fighters there. Mabhouh’s assassination in Dubai indicates that Israel has not abandoned its policy of targeted killings, and is now prepared to violate longstanding agreements with European countries not to forge these countries’ passports in order to facilitate Mossad operations.

Why is Israel doing these things? Three possible explanations suggest themselves...

First, it is possible—though, in our view, not likely—that Israel is deliberately laying the predicate for major military action against Hizballah and/or HAMAS later this year. Israeli intelligence estimates that Hizballah has more than replenished its military stockpiles since the 2006 war, and has acquired longer-range and more capable rockets that significantly increase the damage it could do to Israel in a conflict. In the wake of last year’s elections in Lebanon, Hizballah showed that it remains indispensable to the country’s political stability, and Hariri’s government has formally endorsed Hizballah’s weapons as an integral part of Lebanon’s national security posture. Israel also believes that HAMAS is rebuilding its military capabilities in Gaza. Politically, Egyptian efforts to force HAMAS to accept a blatantly pro-Fatah “unity” agreement have blown up,..... But all-out war in the Levant during the next several months is a high-risk and potentially high-cost option for Israel. Consequently, Israel may have adopted a more aggressive posture toward Lebanon and Gaza with the aim of bolstering (more like 'boisterous' in my opinion!) what Israeli military commanders like to describe as their country’s deterrent edge. Current and former senior Israeli military officers tell us that, in the view of the Israeli security establishment, Israel’s military initiatives in Lebanon in 2006 and Gaza in 2008-09—along with its 2007 air attack on an alleged nuclear facility in Syria—actually “worked”. As Nasrallah himself acknowledges, the Israeli-Lebanese border has been quiet since 2006. Furthermore, since the 2008-09 Gaza war, HAMAS has been substantially observing a ceasefire with Israel. Against this backdrop, the Israeli security establishment—now with the backing of the decidedly right-leaning Netanyahu government—may well calculate that a more aggressive day-to-day posture toward Hizballah, HAMAS, and Syria could extend the deterrent benefits of the Israeli military’s most recent engagements.

Finally, Israel’s more aggressive posture toward Lebanon and Gaza may be part of a broader strategy for dealing with the Obama Administration regarding Iran. This strategy grows out of two assessments that seem to be becoming consensus positions among political and policymaking elites in Israel.

–First, conversations with a range of Israeli interlocutors indicate that there is profound skepticism within the Israeli establishment that President Obama will deal effectively with Iran. Israeli elites do not expect that there will be successful diplomacy with Iran over its nuclear program; likewise, they do not expect international sanctions to effect significant change in Iran’s nuclear activities.

–Second, at the same time, Israeli politicians and national security experts judge that it is increasingly likely Obama will be a one-term President.

Given these assessments, Israeli political and policymaking elites anticipate that the next two years in U.S.-Israeli relations will be—as an Israeli colloquialism puts it—“garbage time”, particularly with regard to the Iranian nuclear issue. For the Israeli security establishment and the Netanyahu Government, the strategic priority for the “garbage time” will be to prepare the ground that President Obama’s successor will be inclined to support military action against Iran. It could also mean preparing the ground so that, if Israel decides it must strike before President Obama’s term is over, public opinion and the political establishment in the United States are so strongly supportive of military action against the Islamic Republic that Obama cannot effectively oppose an Israeli unilateral initiative.)

The Israeli agenda to prepare the ground so that the United States will be more favorably disposed to the imperative of military action has several interlocking elements.

a–The Israeli government and the pro-Israel lobby in the United States will continue pressing for a “maximalist” U.S. agenda in whatever nuclear talks with Iran that might take place—including a complete suspension of Iran’s fuel cycle activities. This position clearly reflects the strategic preferences of the Israeli government; if pursued by the United States, it also would undercut any prospects for a nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic.

b–The Israeli government and the pro-Israel lobby in the United States will continue to push for tougher sanctions against Iran. While Israeli political and policymaking elites are deeply skeptical that sanctions could actually leverage Iranian decision-making about the nuclear issue, they nonetheless believe that it is necessary to go through the process of debating and imposing sanctions on the Islamic Republic in order to focus U.S. and Western opinion on the futility of sanctions and the imperative for military action against Iranian nuclear threats.

c–Alongside these steps, the Israeli security establishment and the Netanyahu government will work through multiple channels to condition American policymakers and public opinion to be more receptive to the possibility of military action against the Islamic Republic.

d–And, of course, the Netanyahu will continue to be unforthcoming on the Palestinian issue. The position clearly reflects the government’s strategic and political preferences; it also is calculated to compound Obama’s image in the United States as a foreign policy “failure” in addition to his domestic policy break downs.

e–In this context, keeping tensions relatively high between Israel, on one side, and Hizballah, HAMAS, Syria, and Iran could also fit into the Netanyahu Government’s emerging “garbage time” strategy.

We are inclined to believe that Israel’s current actions reflect both the IDF’s interest in boosting Israeli deterrence and the Netanyahu Government’s interest in pursuing its “garbage time” strategy. But, even if the Netanyahu Government is not deliberately seeking to spark a military confrontation in the next few months, Israel’s more aggressive posture increases the risk of such a confrontation. This is a situation that cries out for “adult supervision” of Arab-Israeli security affairs. Is the Obama Administration up to the task...?

India and Pakistan grandstanding again...

India and Pakistan grandstanding again...

Amid much grandstanding, the India-Pakistan "dialogue" got off to a start in New Delhi on Thursday - albeit a somewhat bumpy one. No immediate breakthrough in frosty ties was expected, nor was one achieved. The United States, which is brokering the structured talks at the Foreign Ministry-level, should heave a sigh of relief that the ball is rolling after a 14-month hiatus....

The approach of the Indian and Pakistani sides presents a study in contrast, although both saw the other as desperately keen for talks to resume. India always held dialogue as a trump card to force Pakistan to respond to its demands to curb the activities of terrorist groups. On its part, Islamabad presumed that India "panicked" at the prospect of regional isolation on its part after placing itself brilliantly to seek leverage with the US from its "strategic assets" - the Taliban - in the endgame in Afghanistan.

Neither assumption is valid. Delhi ought to realize that despite its stubborn refusal to talk, Islamabad parried its demand to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure with links to the Pakistani security establishment that bleeds India. Indeed, indications are that Pakistan envisages the continued use of terrorism as a state policy vis-a-vis India.

Equally, Islamabad is naive to think Delhi will roll over and accept a Taliban regime in Kabul. Indeed, India has several big advantages insofar as its economy is robustly coasting toward a 9% growth rate and it isn't a basket case needing a constant infusion of American aid, apart from enjoying the political stability that comes with civilian supremacy in government.

The Indians used the talks on Thursday to push terrorism to center stage. The Indian brief seems to have been as hard as nails, with Delhi handing over three dossiers listing Pakistan-based terrorists, while its projection in the run-up was as smooth as silk, with Delhi presenting itself as reasonable and open to exchanges on a range of bilateral issues.

The Pakistani side apparently did not expect Delhi to name a senior serving Pakistani military official as a terrorist. Given the political realities in Pakistan with the military calling the shots, Delhi's allegation almost instinctively forced the suave Pakistani Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir, who led the visiting delegation and who is well regarded in Delhi, to launch an uncharacteristic 90-minute televised diatribe against India at a press conference in the Pakistani chancery.

How the Indian allegation regarding the Pakistani military officer pans out remains to be seen since it constitutes a virtual finger-pointing of the army chief in Rawalpindi, General Pervez Kiani, as the mastermind behind terrorism in the sub-continent.

We may expect storms in the days ahead, and how big the American umbrella is to ferry home the Indians and the Pakistanis in the event of a sudden downpour becomes an element in the Barack Obama administration's checklist, alongside the attendant woes of the war in Afghanistan.

The audacity of Obama's hope is simply stunning - pick up the Pakistani military to be a key ally of both the US and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in the fulfillment of strategy on Afghanistan and Central Asia, while stringing Delhi along as a "strategic partner'' in encounters with a rising China and resurgent Russia.

Obama faces an acute dilemma. Time is short and he desperately needs the Pakistani military to bring the Taliban in from the cold to the negotiating table, without which the bleeding of the US's Afghan wound won't stop. The Pakistani military senses Obama's need and it knows it is immensely experienced in serving Washington's interests in the Hindu Kush - but for a price.

The Pakistani wish-list is demanding. The military expects to be built up by Washington to a near parity in conventional strength with its Indian adversary. It also deserves a nuclear deal similar to the one the George W Bush administration granted India. It cannot and will not accept any thinking in Washington that attributes the role of a regional superpower to India; and it expects a US mediatory role to pressure India to settle the Kashmir dispute.

In essence, Pakistan seeks a strategic relationship with the US that duly recognizes its own legitimate claim as a regional power that goes beyond the imperatives of the Afghan war or NATO's enlargement in Central Asia.

Delhi - and indeed other regional powers - will be keenly watching how far Obama bends to accommodate Pakistan. Meanwhile, a series of consultations with other key players with stakes in Obama's regional policies is beginning. Indian Foreign Minister S M Krishna is scheduled to visit Beijing; Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is due to visit Delhi in March; and a round of ministerial consultation with Iran may come up in May.

However, Delhi may see no real need to seek an entente cordiale with third parties in order to catch Obama's eye. India's ties with the US are steadily deepening and unlike in the case with Pakistan, strategic partnership with the US goes down extremely well with the Indian elites and public opinion. It cannot be lost on Washington that India is indeed one of the few "natural allies" left on the planet for the US and unlike the case with Pakistan, Delhi promises a durable relationship of intrinsic worth.

Why should the US, therefore, kill the goose that lays the golden egg? Delhi expects Washington not to tread on India's core interests and concerns and estimates that a relationship of mutual trust and global partnership isn't too much to ask.

While the US has seldom been so influential in the sub-continent, a striking parallel can be drawn with the early 1960s after the 1962 Sino-Indian conflict. Chinese "communist expansionism" was the core US agenda and Washington counted on keeping both India and Pakistan as allies - and perhaps made its most direct intervention to settle the Kashmir dispute so that its geostrategy could work.

However, as Howard Schaffer, an experienced former US ambassador, wrote in a recent book, at a certain point the John F Kennedy administration saw the danger of annoying India by pressuring it on Kashmir lest Delhi drift toward Beijing for a normalization of relations.

But historical analogies apart, the nascent India-Pakistan dialogue process that started in Delhi on Thursday will likely continue. It seems reasonable to estimate that despite hardliners in both countries, Delhi and Islamabad will realize the usefulness of an incremental dialogue process.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is an ardent advocate of a transformation of the adversarial India-Pakistan relationship on lines similar to the historic French-German concord of the 1950s. But there is also some disarray insofar as the Indian security establishment doesn't seem to share his vision and often gives into silly pastimes of laying booby traps along the path of India-Pakistan normalization.

The prime ministers of India and Pakistan are bound to come across one another on April 28-29 at a summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation in the Bhutanese capital of Thimpu.

Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao revealed that Bashir invited her to visit Islamabad for the next round of talks. Will they schedule a session in late March or early April?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Jundallah arrest proves masterful by IRAN and extremely "Timely"

Jundallah arrest proves masterful by IRAN and extremely "Timely"

If the snow-covered Elbruz mountains rising just north of Tehran took on an extra glint in the bright wintry sunshine on Wednesday, there was good reason. It was the morning after the dramatic capture of the 31-year-old leader of the dreaded Pakistan-based terrorist group Jundallah, Abdulmalik Rigi, in a stunning operation by Iranian intelligence.

The Soureh Cinema Institute in Tehran and Iran's Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance are already contemplating making a movie about the capture of Rigi, who headed Jundallah (Soldiers of God), a Sunni insurgent group that operates mostly in Iran's southeastern province of Sistan-Balochistan against the Shi'ite regime.

The operation had all the ingredients of a thriller. From available
details, Iranian intelligence, which has been stalking Rigi for months, grabbed him while he was on a flight from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to Kyrgyzstan. The aircraft was forced to land in Bandar Abbas, in southern Iran, where Rigi and an accomplice were forcibly deplaned.

However, Rigi's capture has wider ramifications going well beyond the stuff of high drama. For one thing, the Iranian public was dazzled by the intelligence operation and it has provided a morale boost at a critical juncture when the West is besieging Iran over its nuclear program and the political class in Tehran is more polarized than at any time in the three decades of the Islamic Republic.

Ironically, the Iranian performance stands out in sharp contrast with the fallout from the Israeli intelligence operation in Dubai in the UAE to assassinate prominent Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Mabhouh on January 19. (See Dubai hit exposes Hamas' weaknesses, Asia Times Online, February 23) Iranian Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar made this clear when he said, "Such an operation by the Islamic Republic's security forces indicates that the country's intelligence and security have the upper hand in the region."

No doubt, Iranian public opinion will identify with this mood of self-confidence, no matter the political persuasions of various factions at this current juncture as regards the ruling establishment.

In turn, that would have implications for the United States-Iran standoff. But that is only one aspect. The fact is that Tehran has put Washington on the back foot at a critical juncture. Rigi is bound to spill the beans - he may already have begun - and much is going to surface about the covert activities by the US forces based in Afghanistan to subvert Iran by hobnobbing with Jundallah, which, incidentally, is also known to have links with al-CIAda....

Rigi apparently had a meeting with his US mentors in an American base just a day before his journey to the UAE. It seems he was traveling with a fake Afghan passport provided by the Americans. A lot of highly embarrassing details are trickling in already that will be eagerly lapped up by the so-called "Arab street" and which will make the entire American position on the situation around Iran look rather weak.

The American doublespeak on terrorism comes out all too starkly. The big question is whether Pakistan played a helpful role in Rigi's capture. Iranian officials flatly insist that Rigi's capture was "fully carried out" by Iranian agencies, including its "management, operation and planning" and the credit goes "solely to our country's security and task forces".

Iranian Intelligence Minister Hojjatoleslam Heydar Moslehi, who is also an influential clerical figure, has stated categorically that "no other country had a share in this success".

But Persian is a highly nuanced language. What is significant is that while Iranian officials have unhesitatingly pointed their finger at the US as Rigi's top mentor, there has not been a single reference direct or implied about Pakistan that could be construed as critical or unfriendly. This must be noted as on several occasions in recent months Iranian officials publicly expressed their anguish that Pakistani intelligence was involved with Jundallah in one way or another, and that Islamabad was not doing enough to live up to its claims of being a friendly neighbor.

Tehran repeatedly passed on intelligence and urged Islamabad to extradite Rigi following the deadly attack by Jundallah in Sistan-Balochistan province in October, which resulted in the killing of 42 people, including several high-ranking Iranian military commanders.

On balance, Islamabad seems to have implied that it did cooperate with Tehran on Rigi's capture. The Pakistani ambassador in Tehran, Mohammad Baksh Abbasi, took the unusual step of "underlining Islamabad's support" for Rigi's arrest. Abbasi held a press conference to affirm, "Rigi's arrest showed that there is no place for Iran's enemies in Pakistan." Shorn of diplomatese, Abbasi claimed a share of the credit that Tehran was bent on exclusively hogging. But Maslehi was plainly dismissive about any Pakistani role.

If there was a Pakistani role in Rigi's capture there would be deep implications for regional security. Most certainly, Islamabad could claim reciprocal "goodwill" from Iran, such as accommodating its own interests in Afghanistan. On the other hand, Iranian officials have made it clear that Tehran is not indebted to anyone, including Pakistan.

Tehran remains deeply concerned about the US strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan's role in it. In the Iranian estimation, the US strategy aims at consolidating a long-term North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) presence in Afghanistan and Central Asia. Equally, Pakistan's growing ties with NATO as the alliance's South Asian "pillar" have not escaped Iranian attention. There is no denying the fact that NATO-Pakistan ties are fast assuming a strategic character and have exceeded the immediate requirements of practical cooperation in Afghanistan.

Tehran is equally apprehensive that the US's long-term strategy is to become the "umpire" or arbiter of Asian security involving four major powers neighboring Afghanistan - Iran, India, Russia and China - by exploiting the contradictions in the region. Tehran estimates that Pakistan is collaborating with this and is in many ways becoming a beneficiary of it.

Therefore, Tehran will follow a two-track policy on the Jundallah-Pakistan nexus. On the one hand, it would like to persuade Islamabad at all available levels to be cooperative in curbing the activities of terrorist elements operating out of Pakistani soil. However, Tehran cannot be naive enough to imagine that the Jundallah terrorists are "non-state actors" based in Pakistan and Afghanistan over whom the security establishment in Islamabad has no control.

Tehran would prefer not to harp on about that sensitive aspect and will instead cajole and persuade the Pakistani intelligence and military to be cooperative in countering terrorism directed against Iran from Pakistani soil.

The Rigi episode brings out the complexity of Iran-Pakistan relations in the fight against terrorism. The bottom line is that Iran's interests in Afghanistan are far too fundamental to be bartered away under any circumstances.

We know less about Ptech software than we do about PROMIS....

Here is my take on Ptech:

We know less about Ptech software than we do about PROMIS. But the new software is much more powerful and important, because our defense against terror depends upon its effectiveness. Unlike PROMIS, it appears to be owned by private interests. However, we would not be surprised if the US government somehow had some ownership rights.

Ptech is a high tech command and control system is probably the most advanced command and control and data mining software in the world. Experts call this “data blueprinting software”. This software combines artificial intelligence and interoperability, the capacity to read, modify source codes, and operate other programs --all without being detected thereafter. It is commonly called "Ptech" after the name of the firm that builds it. . It is a very advanced version of PROMIS and its progeny. It is used in a variety of areas including finance, medicine, intelligence, warfare, and aviation. The military uses it in a number of ways and looks to the day when it can be used from space to provide a "God's-eye view" of the battlefield. Some might think that reliance on this Saudi-owned computer software company might be more dangerous to the US than having most ports operated by a UAE company.

A version of Ptech is headquartered in the basement of the FAA. It is intended for use when planes were hijacked and it is intended link and coordinate the activities of the FAA, NORAD, and the Secret Service. As a firm, Ptech works with DARPA, the Department of Defense's research group and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency uses Ptech software.

This software was built in Quincy, Mass. Ptech ( now GoAgile), which emerged in 1994 with ample funding, is an outfit financed by Yassin Al-Qadi, a Saudi businessman with ties to Al Qaeda, who invested $5 in 1994 and $18 million in 1998. Ptech is currently harvesting significant profits with its Playstation products. Apparently it produces toys for all ages.
Al-Qadi appeared on the Bush administration's first terrorist list, and his US assets were frozen. He was also head of Saudi Arabia's Blessed Relief Foundation ( Muwafaq). Qadi claims that he met Dick Cheney in Jeddah and that they remain on good terms. He also has a stake in Ptech through BMI, a real estate investment firm in New Jersey, that had links to BCCI. Governor Thomas Kean, chairman of the 9/11 Commission , used BMI to sell a property. Qadi's lawyer said his client had no direct storck in the firm by 2000. Yaqub Mirza, a director of Ptech, is also on the terrorist list.Suheil Laher and Muhammed Mubayyid, two people the FBI sought after 9/11, turned out to be Ptech employees. Directors and investors also had ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.
For two years, consultants Ptech were working in the basement of the FAA. They had access to the FAA's computer systems and would have been in a position to find holes in the nation's domestic air defenses Others who use the software are the FBI and Air Force.

Whistleblower Indira Singh is a computer software who started with JP Morgan in the mid-1990’s and stayed with the firm when it became Morgan/Chase. She was trying to develop interceptive software for the bank that would prevent PROMIS progeny software from stealing data. She first became familiar with Ptech six months after 9/11, when she was asked to permit Ptech to give a demonstration at JP Morgan/Chase. That bank was considering the use of the software to detect terrorist money transfers. A team from Ptech appeared that was lead by Dr. Hussein Ibrahim, co-founder of BMI. After the Ptech people were on the premises half an hour, their behavior alarmed her. Ibrahim wanted to demonstrate the program on his laptop by using proprietary Morgan Chase data. Singh learned through her calls that Yasin al- Qadi had a major interest in the firm. Yasin was a Saudi financier, previously involved in BCCI, who would have his assets in the US frozen after 911 because the government believed he was financing terrorists. Treasury officials said his charity was an Al Qaeda front. Indira Sngh eventually concluded that Ptech was a CIA cut-out.

She took her security concerns to the MorganChase’s General Auditor who advised her to forget about it and keep quiet or she was out. She continued to pursued the matter and was fired. She then became a senior consultant for Interoperability Clearing House. Why Morgan Chase covered for a firm that seemed to have terrorist ties remains unexplained....

Ms. Singh had an apartment near Ground Zero and was a volunteer EMT there on September 11. She claims that her apartment is contaminated and that her lungs were damaged by working as an emergency EMT that day. She developed strong feelings about what happened that day and took her concerns about Ptech to the Boston FBI, where someone finally told her there was nothing they could do as " Saudis have been given a free pass for 9/11." Then she contacted Joe Bergantino a reporter the local CBS station, WBZ who was also investigating Ptech.

At one point, people Singh thought the Secret Service debriefed her. She wanted to tell them about the people behind Ptech, but they told her “:We can't investigate the people behind Ptech. Just trust me, lets focus on the software.” She later decided her questioners were from military intelligence.
A former Ptech employee and several current employees called the Boston office soon after 9/11 and that there was no follow up. Two FBI agents in Chicago in Chicago encountered many problems when they reported that al- Qadi was funding terrorist organizations. They were told they could keep writing reports but not to make arrests. Their supervisor apparently shouted at them, “You will not open criminal investigations against any of these intelligence subjects.” Al Qadi was working with the CIA in the U.S., Albania, Kosovo, and Bosnia. He helped get funds to the Kosovo Liberation Army. Subsequently, the US, Albania, and Turkey froze his assets. He was a CIA operative at time, but who knows what else he was doing. It is clear now that Ali Mohammed, once a CIA employee, appears to have been a skilled double agent for Al Qaeda, who took advantage of both the CIA and FBI, making both appear inept.

They had also been probing BMI, and concluded that it had financed the bombings to two embassies in East Africa. In 2002, one of them Robert Wright, stood weeping on the US Capitol steps, apologizing that he did not do more to save lives on September 11, 2002. He was then muzzled. On the other hand, an agent born in Egypt was twice promoted after refusing to wear a wire while talking to one terrorist suspect and refusing to tape a telephone conversation with another.

Some of the owners of Ptech, she found had funded the Afghan mujahadeen in the eighties, and she joined others in suggesting that they pumped some money into the Brooklyn cell that attacked the World Trade Center in 1993. That organization morphed into a firm known as Mitre, and with Booz & Hamilton, now operates Ptech. James Woolsey is a director of Booz and Hamilton. Joe Bergantino hired an investigator to keep track of the Ptech people and found that they had a warehouse in a area from whence drugs were shipped. Government officials persuaded WBZ not to air his story, and ABC's Brian Ross and NBC's Lisa Myers= stories on Ptech met the same fate.

In Octobeer, 2001, some former Ptech employees told the FBI that the firm had ties to terrorists. For some reason, the FBI appears to have done nothing about these claims. In the Spring of 2002, Ptech people were at Morgan Chase drumming up business—the event that made Singh get involved. Singh became so upset by the FBI's bungling of the case that she went to Senator Charles Grassley, who promised to look into it. He also found someone to be her bodyguard. Nothing ever came of his investigation. This writer has found several other touchy cases where he has tried to do the right thing and also protect the whistleblower. In most of these instances, the senator seemed to find it necessary to back off.

Bergantino found that Ptech's software was used by many federal agencies, but federal investigators told him not to air his findings at they would damage an on-going investigation. However the government delayed even looking into Ptech and the firm had almost a year to destroy records. As a result of Singh and Bergantino's work, Ptech was finally raided by Operation Greenquest ( a program to find those who finance terrorism) on December 6, 2002. Bergantino was not alerted, and someone else got the exclusive coverage of the story. After the raid, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer almost immediately said Ptech was clean. Green Quest was a Customs-led operation, and Michael Chertoff at Justice had unsuccessfully tried to seize control of it. Powerful Republican strategist Grover Norquist denounced the raid.

A few take her surmise that Cheney was operating a Ptech program in the White House bunker to mean that he was interfering with FAA-NORAD efforts to respond. Her information on Ptech and its ownership is not disputed. She clams that intelligence sources told her that the people who financed the firm had drug business ties to the CIA that extended back to BCCI days, but she has remained deliberately vague on that subject.

One reason there is so much interest in Ptech software is that air traffic controllers saw more than the usual number of unidentified flights that day. But most interesting was the "phantom flight 11" mentioned in the 911 Commission report. It was still on screens at 9:24 AM , after the NORAD war games had ceased and after the Pentagon had been struck. Was the FAA getting mistaken information provided by manipulation of its Ptech software by other Ptech software? Singh thinks the reports on what Cheney was doing in the White House bunker suggest he was using Ptech software. Perhaps he was trying to track what was going on. There was also the possibility that someone else was using it to confuse the FAA and NORAD. We're not likely to know if this occurred.

The anti-Israeli writer Christopher Bollyn found that a Jew , Michael S. Goff , was running Ptech and concluded that Mossad was really running the firm through an Arab cut-out because the US government would never permit someone with possible terrorist ties to run such a sensitive firm.
In 2006, Neil Entwistle, an English computer technician who worked on Ptech, was accused of shooting his wife and 9 month old daughter while they were asleep in bed in their Hopkinton, Massachusetts home. He then fled to England, where authorities first said the Americans just wanted to question him. He was subsequently extradited and returned to the US on a Gulfstream jet the CIA had used for renditions. He was flown from Gatwick to Hanscom Air Force Base in Massachusetts. On June 26, 2008, he was convicted of first degree murder, which means incarceration for life without parole.

He worked for Embedded New Technologies (ENT) in Boston, which is connected to InQtel in Braintree, a firm believed to be a CIA proprietary. He was working on Internet surveillance software. Before 9/11 he allegedly helped wire backdoors into the P-Tech systems used by the White House, FAA , NORAD, and Pentagon. His wife told her mother he had large amounts of money if off-shore accounts.
Entwistle plead innocent and said his wife was depressed and shot herself and the daughter. He claimed to removed the .22 semi automatic from the crime scene to protect her reputation. His parents questioned the jury selection process, and his lawyer called not one witness.

Singh later appeared at a Canadian conference on 911 and said, “I was told that if I mentioned the money to the drugs around 9/11 that would be the end of me.” She has not expanded on that theme. Later, her friend Michael Corbin, a radio host, was found dead in his car at the side of a road.
There was a little discussed Treasury raid of Ptech. Immediately after that, Secretary of the Treasury Paul O Neill was fired. However, his firing may have been because he had just been to Saudi Arabia where he angered members of the House of Saud by asking to see the financial records of some Islamic charities.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

NIGER : The Uranium Coup

By Michael Carmichael -

February , 2010


U.S. House of Representative Alan Grayson led a Congressional delegation that just happened to be in Niger at the time of the recent military coup last Thursday that deposed the legitimate elected government of the Uranium-rich nation.


The official story is that the members of Congress were focused on science, technology and humanitarian relief - at the very same time that the military coup was unfolding on the streets of the capital, Niamey.

This intriguing "coincidence" raises the question: Was this Congressional presence during a military coup another instance of a massive intelligence failure or something entirely different?

Niger is a landlocked African country with a population of 15 million mostly Islamic citizens. Niger has a relatively small military that consumes a mere 1.6% of its annual budget.

When the Grayson delegation reached Niamey, the military staged a coup d'etat to displace the elected government of President Tandja Mamadou who had raised some concerns by moves to introduce reforms and revise the constitution as well as to extend his term in office.

Niger is rich in Uranium holding at least 6% of global reserves - a figure that is twice as large as US Uranium deposits. The radioactive mineral constitutes 72% of national exports. In recent years, foreign corporations have invested billions into the Uranium-driven economy of Niger.

The military coup was allegedly led by a relatively low-level Platoon Commander Salou Djibo who held an official briefing during which he maintained silence about any future return to Niger's constitutional democracy.

Djibo is the now the leader of a 'Supreme Council' of army officials that currently constitutes the military junta governing the Uranium-rich nation.

Following Djibo's coup, the UN promptly condemned the military takeover, and the African Union immediately expelled Niger. France, Niger's former colonial overlord, condemned the coup, but the official American reaction struck a distinctly different chord when US State Department Spokesman, P. J. Crowley, briefed reporters that President Tandja may have triggered the coup himself by, "trying to extend his mandate."

The simultaneous presence of a US Congressional delegation in a uranium-rich Muslim nation at the time of a right-wing military coup is bound to arouse international scrutiny — especially when official spokesmen in Washington are the sole sources to rationalize — if not defend — the military action against the elected government of Niger.

Grayson is a member of the Science and Technology Committee that has jurisdiction over non-defense (ie. non-military) federal scientific research and development including NASA, FEMA and the Department of Energy. Grayson is a progressive on domestic issues, but, as Max Blumenthal has pointed out, he follows the AIPAC line on Israel and the Middle East - because he supported Israel's Operation Cast Lead and a pro-Israel position vis a vis Iran, an Islamic nation currently developing nuclear energy.

At this point in time, no other names of the members of the "Congressional delegation" led by Alan Grayson have been released raising deeper questions about the Uranium Coup.....

Niger ex-intelligence chief arrested:

NIAMEY — Niger's former intelligence chief was arrested Wednesday, days after four senior members of the west African country's ruling junta were detained for an alleged "attempt to destabilize the regime", a source said.

Seini Chekaraou, who headed the counter-espionage agency and was sacked on Monday, was "arrested today (Wednesday)," a security source told us, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Chekarou is reportedly close to Colonel Abdoulaye Badie, the former number two in Niger's junta, who was arrested on Friday.

The junta took power in a February 18 coup which ousted President Mamadou Tandja after a decade in power.

Badie and three others were arrested over an alleged plot that aimed to delay the pledged transition to civilian rule.

The transition process is due to kick off on October 31 with a constitutional referendum followed by a presidential election on January 31.

Rumors of another coup have swirled in Niamey over the past few weeks. For several days, the military presence in the capital and its suburbs has been stepped up with larger patrols, particularly at night....

Monday, February 22, 2010

The man behind Turkey's strategic depth

The man behind Turkey's strategic depth

ISTANBUL - As current Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu describes it, Turkey was a "wing state" of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) during the Cold War, at the edge, protecting the core. The only NATO country, besides Norway, to border the Soviet Union, Turkey was the first place the Truman Doctrine of containing communism was put into practice. This Western allegiance and its military character suited Turkish state elites and so, for 44 years, in exchange for money and arms, Turkey guarded itself and the southeast corner of Europe from the red threat.

Then as the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union collapsed in the early 1990s, and Samuel Huntington, Francis Fukuyama and Robert Kaplan were writing their post-Cold War versions of the thoughts of "the father of containment", American advisor, diplomat and political scientist George Kennan, another scholar of international relations, Davutoglu, began to make his own map of the new geopolitical landscape.

From his post as a professor of international relations, Davutoglu argued that Turkey, now freed from the East-West political geography of the Cold War and embedded in the new geography of globalization, should no longer be thought of as an appendage of the West, but rather as a country at the center. He elaborated this idea in his 2001 book Strategic Depth and the title has since become a shorthand description of Davutoglu's "doctrine". The basic idea is that Turkey, a central, pivotal country, must use its unique geography and history to its foreign policy advantage.

Born in 1959 in the central Anatolian city of Konya, Davutoglu was educated in Istanbul and received his doctorate in political science from Bogazici University. In the early 1990s he taught in Malaysia then returned to Beykent and Marmara universities in Istanbul.

Davutoglu's ideas convinced the leadership of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), and when it came to power in 2002 Davutoglu was appointed chief foreign policy adviser to Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In May 2009 he was appointed foreign minister.

Davutoglu did not stand for election and is not a member of parliament, and for eight years he has had the enviable position of being a politically unaccountable politician with the job of turning his personal theory into his country's policy.

If Turkey's strategic advantage is, as Davutoglu says, in its geography and history, then this advantage is certainly deep. Located in both Asia and Europe, Turkey borders the Balkans, the Caucuses and the Middle East. Across the water from its Black Sea, Aegean and Mediterranean coasts, Turkey has 25 coastal neighbors. All traffic into and out of the Black Sea goes through the Turkish Straits. The Tigris and Euphrates rivers begin in Anatolia, and thus Turkey controls the freshwater of Syria and Iraq. At least 12 million Kurds live in Turkey and more than 5 million Kurds live over its border in northern Iraq. Turkic languages and cultures cover the ground between southeastern Europe and northwestern China. And Istanbul, once seat of the caliphate and the Ottoman Empire, ruled Jerusalem, Sarajevo, Mecca, Cairo, Belgrade, Damascus and Baghdad for generations.

Davutoglu has pushed Turkey to use this "strategic depth" to become a key global player and take stakes in the world's, especially the West's, most high-profile issue areas.

With the largest NATO army besides America's, Turkey wants to ensure stability in northern Iraq once the Americans are gone. Turkey is the centerpiece country of the Nabucco natural gas pipeline project, intended to free Europe from reliance on Russian gas. Turkey has sought a reputation for mediating tough disputes: in Bosnia; between Israel and Syria; and between its two friends, Iran and America. (One Turkish writer joked that Turkey should ask Turkey to help improve the currently strained relations between itself and Israel.)

Turkish troops are in Afghanistan training the Afghan National Army. Turkey is in the middle of its two-year term on the United Nations Security Council and is a proud member of the Group of 20. Turkey, with Spain, helped establish the Alliance of Civilizations, a UN-supported forum for improving relations between the Muslim world and the West.

Seeking "zero problems with neighbors", Turkey and Syria have lifted visa requirements and Turkey hopes to get a similar deal with Russia this year. Also, Turkey has signed, but not yet ratified, a peace deal with Armenia. Turkey wants to be a full member of the European Union by 2014. If Turkey succeeds, the EU will border Iran, possess huge military resources and see a six-fold increase in its Muslim population. If Turkey fails, it will be difficult for the EU to convince the world that Islamophobia is not a European value.

Though in the thick of major Western concerns - Iraq, Afghanistan, Israeli-Arab peace, energy, Islam, EU - the central goal of all this policy is business: increase trade, attract foreign investment and provide for Turkey's economy. In AKP foreign policy speeches one regularly hears about Turkey's "young and dynamic population" who will need jobs, and whose careers and businesses will have to grow.

Since Turkey was founded in 1923, its foreign policy has been dominated by a concern for keeping the country whole. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, modern Turkey's founder, watched for two generations the great powers conspiring to pick apart the dying Ottoman Empire. Just look at the terms of the Treaty of Sevres (1920) to understand the Turkish fear of foreign plots. Turks from all walks of life still often agree that foreign powers are trying to break up the country; and almost every Turk today has been taught that, "Turkey is surrounded on three sides by the sea, and on four sides by the enemy."

But Turkey has been liberalizing its economy since the 1980s, and in the past decade Turks have succeeded in opening the national interest to more than national security. The AKP is both demilitarizing Turkish politics and privatizing billions of dollars of state assets. Under Davutoglu and the AKP, the new axiom may well be, "Turkey is surrounded on three sides by the sea, and on four sides by markets."

Some call Davutoglu's foreign policy "neo-Ottomanism". And to listen to one AKP member of parliament speak of his "pride" at seeing the Ottoman walls that enclose the old city of Jerusalem, and of the Bascarsi in Sarajevo, it is clear Ottoman nostalgia warms the foreign policy imaginations of at least some in the Turkish government.

Davutoglu has himself said, "... whenever there is a crisis in the Balkans, the victims of those crises, like Bosnians, Albanians and Turks of Bulgaria, they look to Istanbul. We are paying the bill of our history." Still, Davutoglu rejects the label "neo-Ottoman" as an attempt by his opponents to tarnish his foreign policy with connotations of colonialism. His recent decision to renovate all Turkish embassies in a "Turkish style" - which most likely means "Ottoman" - may not help his case.

A specific threat to Davutoglu's credibility is the faltering peace deal with Armenia. Last October in Zurich, in front of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Davutoglu and his Armenian counterpart Edouard Nalbandian signed two sets of groundbreaking protocols that were supposed to lead to full diplomatic relations and an open border.

The whole rapprochement is currently on hold, largely because Azerbaijan is resisting the deal over Armenia's control of Nagorno-Karabakh inside Azerbaijan. The spokesman of the Turkish parliament foreign affairs committee simply said they "didn't know Azerbaijan was going to react that way".

Also, despite Davutoglu calling it a "main fixture" of the country's foreign policy, Turkey's bid to join the EU has stalled. Frustrated with perceived European insincerity, a minority in the AKP is arguing Turkey no longer needs the EU. Interestingly, one reason given is that EU membership would curtail Turkey's foreign policy independence. Davutoglu will have to manage this debate, as well as a more general debate over priorities as the Foreign Ministry realizes its resources may not match its ambitions.

Critics also say Davutoglu and the AKP have "Islamified" Turkish foreign policy. Religion is part of the worldview of the AKP and affects the way it governs. But the accusation of "Islamification" is clearly designed to play on prejudices and scare Western and secular observers. Many liberals and progressives in Turkey dismiss - or willfully ignore - the accusation as a point of principle. These two poles of fear mongering and dismissal have kept much helpful debate from reaching foreign ears.

Ironically, given the accusations of "Islamification", there's no clear moral basis to Davutoglu's foreign policy. This may not be missed by those who like their foreign policy analysis on ice. But treating all parties with "mutual respect" and on a principle of "equality", as Davutoglu advocates, risks being blind to real differences between, for example, Greece and Iran, or Israel and Sudan. This is, at least partially, why many find it easy to wonder whether Turkey is "leaving" the West.

Again, this may not be a problem for those who think George W Bush discredited the whole notion of distinguishing dictators from democrats. The AKP stresses that engagement with its neighbors is not a luxury, and claim they do communicate misgivings privately. But the question remains: will the masses of Turkish voters who keep the AKP in power eventually demand to hear in which terms - ones nobler than economic self-interest - their government describes its goals abroad, and on what grounds it considers a friend to be a friend? After all, "democracy" and "democratization" are the AKP's domestic policy mantras, and the AKP has been very happy to point out America's and the EU's various double standards.